Students today have access to so much information that they need to weigh the reliability of sources. Any resource—print, human, or electronic—used to support your research inquiry must be evaluated for its credibility and reliability. In other words, you have to exercise some quality control over what you use. When you use the print and multimedia materials found in your college library, your evaluation task is not so complicated because librarians have already established the credibility and appropriateness of those materials for academic research. The marketplace forces publishers to be selective as well.
Data collected in interviews of persons whose reliability is not always clearly established should be carefully screened, especially if you present this material as expert opinion or as based on knowledge of your topic. You may have even more difficulty establishing trustworthiness for electronic sources, especially those you find on the World Wide Web and Internet.
Because the Internet and web are easy to use and readily accessible, web material is volatile—it changes, becomes outdated, or is deleted. Its inconsistency and sometimes crude form make web information suspect for people who use it for research. Because there is frequently no quality control over web information, you must critically evaluate all the material you find there, text and graphics alike.
You can use the following checklist, adapted from “Evaluating Internet Resources” (UMUC, 1998), to evaluate any of your sources, but especially those on the web. Ask yourself these questions about your sources. The higher the number of questions answered yes, the more likely it is that the source is of high quality.
|Checklist for Evaluating Research Sources|
|Authority||Is the authority in this material clear and legitimate? Is the writer qualified?|
|Accuracy||Can the factual information be verified by legitimate authority? Can one opinion be verified against another?|
|Objectivity||Is the material objective and free of advertising, bias, and hidden agendas? Is the language impartial? Is the statistical evidence credible?|
|Currency||Is the material updated frequently to ensure currency? Does the material reflect the most up-to-date research?|
|Coverage||Is the material complete, partial, or out of context? If the material is out of context, is there a path to find the source? If the material is out of copyright, has it been updated to make it more current?|
Evaluate sources of information by examining them for authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage.
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