To critically evaluate information and its sources.
When examining a print periodical or journal, or a website, you need to ask yourself some questions when trying to figure out its ideological orientation. You will want to recognize editorial points of view for many reasons: e.g., to find competing perspectives on particular policy proposals.
Use the tabs in this guide to answer these questions. (These items are based on documents used in a course titled AMC500: Research Foundations taught by Robert L. Houbeck, Jr. at the University of Michigan-Flint and the CARS Checklist by Robert Harris of Virtual Salt.)
Goal: To find an authoritative, credible source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.
Who is the author or the publisher?
Don’t assume that because a title or site is produced by a professional group or a foundation with a neutral-sounding name, that it does not have a specific point of view.
Is there evidence of quality control?
Peer-review is the process authors must go through when trying to get their research published. A refereed journal usually has a review board made up of experts in that field who read and critique an article before it is approved for publication. In some cases, these experts may determine that the article is not worthy of publication, therefore it is rejected. Most publications that are considered refereed will state so inside of their publication (usually on the table of contents page), on their website (look for a link to "about us"), and in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory (see the "title" section of volume 4, which is located behind the Reference Desk, and then look for the arrow symbol next to the title).
Goal: To find a source that is correct, up-to-date, factual, detailed, exact, and comprehensive.
Is it timely?
Remember, some disciplines, like computer science, are constantly changing, therefore information can become outdated very quickly. Others, such as history or literary works, are based on older, timeless pieces of information.
Is it comprehensive?
Remember no single piece of information can offer the complete story, which is why you should use more than one source.
Who is the audience?
Goal: To find a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth.
Is it fair?
Remember, a good information source will present an idea in a calm, reasoned, unemotional tone.
Is it objective?
There is nothing wrong with wanting to advance a particular point of view – but it is important to be aware that you are in the presence of people who have a specific agenda.
Is it moderate?
Is it consistent?
Goal: To find a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it).
Is there documentation or a bibliography of other sources?
Citing sources strengthens the credibility of the information.
Can sources be corroborated?
Remember that even in cases of opinions, if an argument is sound, there will be a number of others who are in agreement.