When we select information sources, often our choices may be based on a scale of what is at stake. One line of thought:
High Stakes ----> Medium Stakes -----> Low Stakes
involves money, laws, health -----> is acceptable to instructor ----> "good enough" (settles bar room disagreement)
Why should we care what is at stake? Because there is a lot of information of poor quality out there. This information surfaces as misinformation, propaganda, and disinformation.
The good news is... there are certain criteria that can help us make good judgement calls on whether or not to use a source for support or evidence or position.
The same criteria can be used to evaluate print and online information effectively, while the indicators we look at may vary slightly with online sources and social media.
Best practice: Weigh all criteria to determine whether or not this is the best source to use for research. For the most part in academia all criteria should be analyzed and weigh heavily in favor of a quality source. If this isn't the case, confirmation should be made through a second (third!) source.
Criteria 1. Purpose
Under discussion - Intent for publishing information
Question: Why was this page / article / book / blog created?
Potential reasons may be to inform, give facts or data, explain, persuade, sell, market, share, disclose, rant
Example: possible reasons: .com - sell, market, disclose
.edu - inform, explain
.gov - inform, give facts or data
.org - give data, persuade, share
Caution: Making inferences based on domain name can be dangerous. Specfically should we think: What reasons are appropriate for academic level research, and for the specific type of research our topic requires. Then analyze each source individually for purpose.
Criteria 2. Authority
Under discussion - Basis of the authority with which the author speaks (the author can be a person or an agency like an organization/institution)
Unsure of expertise? Search for biographical information on Internet.
Potential biases: What are the values and beliefs of the author and his/her institutional affiliations?
Example: If you are reading about a political figure at the website of another political party, then you are reading the opposition.
If researching a controversial topic you will find fans and detractors, be sure to read both POVs.
Criteria 3. Content OR "Referral and/or knowledge of the literature"
Under discussion - Context in which the author situates his or her work
Question: Does the information appear to be valid, well researched, and supported by evidence?
1. Source documentation included
2. Author displays knowledge of theories, schools of thought, or techniques usually considered appropriate in treatment of subject. Or, author acknowledges limitations in new approach in theory and technique.
3. Point of View / Objectivity / Bias
Information is rarely neutral. Because data is used in selective ways to form information, it generally represents a point of view, BUT is this point of view as close to objective and impartial as possible.
Criteria 4. Accuracy
Under discussion - Information authenticity
Question: Can the information be corroborated, validated, verified?
Important especially when unfamiliar with author, or if information is presented in non-traditional way. If you are uncertain of the accuracy of information provided in a source, confirm through a second or third source.
Criteria 5. Currency
Under discussion - Timeliness of information
Question: Is source current or out-of-date for topic?
Some research topics currency is not an issue - authorship or place in historical record is more important. Consider... Science, Technology, Health & Medical fields v. Humanities
Location of source - Are they in place tweeting or posting about?
Account - How long has account existed? Be wary of recently created accounts (opportunistic). Can it be correlated with other social media accounts?
Network - Who is in their network? Who follows them? Who do they follow or friend? (should be personal accounts or contextual accounts / in same field)
Context - Usually post or tweet on this topic?
Content - Can information be verified or corroborated with other sources?
Example: Twitter - actively pursue experts, professionals, organizations and associations that continuously tweet about scholarly issues and report on changing dynamics in a field of study. Be cautious: Information sources based on opinion are more prevalent in participatory environments.
Does work update other sources?
Substantiate or validate other findings?
Add new information - like a new claim or viewpoint?
Extensively cover your topic?
Your own Biases: selection, confirmation, hindsight bias