Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University

Library Basics

How Will This Help Me?

Evaluating your sources will help you:

  • Determine the credibility of information
  • Rule out questionable information
  • Check for bias in your sources

Here you will learn to:

  1. Evaluate sources
  2. Evaluate websites
  3. Identify political perspective

Evaluate Sources With the Big 5 Criteria

The Big 5 Criteria can help you evaluate your sources for credibility:

  • Currency: Check the publication date and determine whether it is sufficiently current for your topic. Before using a website, ask yourself these questions: Can you tell when the site was last updated? Can you see when the content you need was added? Does the site show signs of not being maintained (broken links, out-of-date information, etc.)? 
  • Coverage (relevance): Consider whether the source is relevant to your research and whether it covers the topic adequately for your needs.
  • Authority: Discover the credentials of the author(s) of the source and determine their level of expertise and knowledge about the subject. On websites, look for an About Us link or something similar to learn about the site's creator. The more you know about the credentials and mission of a site's creators, as well as their sources of information, the better idea you will have about the site's quality.
  • Accuracy: Consider whether the source presents accurate information and whether you can verify that information. If your source is a website, does it include references or links to the sources of information it presents? Can you locate these sources so that you can read and interpret the information yourself?
  • Objectivity (purpose): Think about the author's purpose in creating the source and consider how that affects its usefulness to your research. Can you detect any bias? Does the author use emotional language? Is the source trying to persuade you about something?  

Identify Political Perspective

News outlets, think tanks, organizations, and individual authors can present information from a particular political perspective. Consider this fact to help determine whether sources are useful for your research.

                                    

 

Check a news outlet's website, usually under About Us or Contact Us, for information about their reporters and authors. For example, USAToday has the USA Today Reporter Index, and the LA Times has an Editorial & Newsroom Contacts. Reading a profile or bio for a reporter or looking at other articles by the author may tell you whether that person favors a particular viewpoint.

If a particular organization is mentioned in an article, learn more about the organization to identify potential biases. Think tanks and other associations usually exist for a reason. Searching news articles about the organization can help you determine their political leaning.

Bias is not always bad, but you must be aware of it. Knowing the perspective of a source helps contextualize the information presented.

Domains

In general, websites are hosted in domains that tell you what type of site it is.

  • .com = commercial
  • .net = network provider
  • .org = organization
  • .edu = education
  • .mil = military
  • .gov = U.S. government 

Commercial sites want to persuade you to buy something, and organizations may want to persuade you to see an issue from a particular viewpoint.

Useful information can be found on all kinds of sites, but you must consider carefully whether the source is useful for your purpose and for your audience.

Content Farms

Content farms are websites that exist to host ads. They post about popular web searches to try to drive traffic to their sites. They are rarely good sources for research.

Fact Checking

Fact checking can help you verify the reliability of a source. The following sites may not have all the answers, but they can help you look into the sources for statements made in U.S. politics.