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Interdisciplinary & Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research: Selecting & Evaluating Information

A resource for student researchers and their faculty mentors.

Evaluating Websites With the 5 Ws

Goldfinch, Ellen. "Evaluating Websites With the 5 W's." YouTube. 8 Oct. 2014. https://youtu.be/OPI7FVon29k 

ACT UP

Dawn Stahura's ACT UP model as a slide presentation.

Selecting & Evaluating Information

Tips for Selecting Information Sources

The type of information sources you use will depend upon your research topic and the requirements of your research project.

Ask yourself these questions to determine the types of information sources most useful for your research:

  • Which sources will provide answers to your questions quickly and easily (It's not always the Internet!!)
  • Which sources will provide reliable information?
  • Do you need current or historical information on my topic?
  • Do you need primary or secondary sources?
  • Do you need descriptive or analytical sources

Think about the types of information you need to find on your topic.

IF YOU NEED:

  • General information - choose nonfiction books, reference books/encyclopedias or reference/encyclopedia databases or web pages
  • Academic, Peer-reviewed, Scholarly - choose academic books, scholarly and peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Facts and Statistics - choose handbooks, yearbooks, or almanacs (print or from databases or online) and U.S. government information available on the web. 
  • Historical information - choose nonfiction books, reference books, encyclopedias, online archives
  • Opinions - choose magazine and newspaper articles (print or from databases) or online
  • Maps, Images, Charts - Choose web pages, almanacs/reference books (print or from databases)
  • Breaking News - Choose news web pages, social media sites, magazines or newspapers 

You should always use a variety of sources in your research so that you get the best, most complete and current information and can validate information across different sources. 

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

PRIMARY SOURCES

Primary sources, containing firsthand knowledge, observation or information are created when an event is currently happening.  Examples of primary sources include:

  • Novels, poems, artwork, films, songs
  • Diaries, personal journals, autobiographies, memoirs, letters, emails, legal documents
  • Pictures, maps, sketches, drawings, photographs
  • Interview transcripts, eyewitness reports, historical documents
  • Reports of scientific experiments

SECONDARY SOURCES

Secondary sources are written after an event has occurred, sometimes many years later.  These sources summarize or analyze the information from primary sources.  Secondary source examples include:

  • Interpretation and appreciation of literature, summary or commentary on research, historical and biographical writings based on factual events and primary sources are examples of secondary sources.
  • Biographies, articles based on an interview
  • Textbooks, reference books, nonfiction books
  • Magazine articles (usually)

 

Descriptive vs. Analytical Sources

‚ÄčDescriptive sources:

  • provide descriptions/data based on observation and measurement
  • report findings, they do not interpret them
  • may describe a process, action, or event, alone or as part of a series, as in the case of an historical perspective of the laws regarding a particular topic or an overview of the scientific findings regarding a particular topic.

Analytic sources:

  • examine descriptive data in a systematiclogicalscientific manner with the purpose of interpreting what the data means, implies or how it might be applied
  • considers the parts as related to the whole of a process, action or event
  • draw conclusions about those involved, the causes or ramifications
  • may support their conclusions by use of comparisons to similar data. 
Questioning with the 5Ws

Often finding information is less of a problem than figuring out whether that information will be appropriate for your project. One way to decide whether a source is “good” for your project or not, is to begin by asking some questions about the source. Remember! Evaluation is a holistic process. One of these questions isn’t enough to determine a source’s usefulness. You need to take them all into consideration.

WHO created the source?

  • What authority does the author/organization have to present on this topic?
  • What are their credentials? Are they connected to the field they are writing about?
  • Are they affiliated with any specific organizations? Could this impact their reliability?
  • Is there contact information for the author or publisher?

WHAT is the purpose of the source?

  • Is it informing? Selling? Entertaining? Persuading?
  • Does the point of view appear to be objective or does it appear to be strongly biased?
  • Is the language emotional pointing to a personal connection to the topic?
  • Are any included images appropriate to the topic and clearly labeled or cited?
  • If on a website: What URL does the site use and what does this suggest about the source?
  • If on a website: Are the ads clearly separated from the information?

WHERE does the information come from?

  • Does the source use evidence to support its claims?
  • Are there any references? If so, are they appropriate to the topic and source?
  • Are there references or works cited lists? If so, what kinds of sources are being cited?
  • Can the information be verified with another source?
  • Is the source presenting fact or opinion?
  • Does the source contain spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?

WHEN was the source published?

  • Has the information been updated or revised if necessary?
  • Does your topic require very recent information, or will older sources be acceptable or even preferred?
  • If on a website: Is a date given for when the information was posted?
  • If on a website: Are there important links that are now dead or overall are they kept up to date?

WHY is this source useful to you?

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level for your needs (i.e. not too simplistic/not too advanced)?
  • Does the information help to answer your research question or develop your argument?
  • Does the source add new information or simply repeat or summarize other perspectives?

With the proliferation of AI-generated content, it is crucial that users evaluate every piece of information thoroughly to determine its reliability, trustworthiness, and authority. While there are benefits of using Generative AI, it has several potential issues that users need to keep in mind. Some of the issues include: 

  • Reliability:  Natural language processing tools, language models, or chatbots, are trained on a collection of writing to generate human-like text in response to a prompt, not necessarily to generate truthful or reliable answers.  
  • Transparency:  In the same way that natural language processing tools, language models, or chatbots, are not necessarily generating truthful or reliable answers, they are not specifically created to locate and credit the sources for the responses they generate.
  • Bias:  Since natural language processing tools, language models, or chatbots, are trained on a large body of writing created by humans with human biases the responses generated could reflect and further enforce those same biases.
  • Privacy:  Like any online platform, AI tools accept the input of private information from users who may not be aware of how the platform intends to use that information.
  • Equity:  Many generative AI tools, both text and image-based, were trained on large collections of material taken from the internet without prior approval or involvement from the human authors who created the content.  These same human authors will be forced to compete for their livelihood with an automated system that can work faster.
    • Many AI tools also perpetuate the dominance of English in online spaces, threatening Indigenous languages.
    • Access to powerful, quality, AI tools may require payment and thus divide those who cannot afford to pay for the tools from the advantages enjoyed by those who can pay.

 

EVALUATING THE RELIABILITY AND AUTHORITY OF AI-GENERATED CONTENT

Who is the author? Could their view be biased in any way?

Text or images generated by AI tools have no human author, but they are trained on materials created by humans with human biases.  Unlike humans, AI tools cannot reliably distinguish between biased material and unbiased material when using information to construct their responses.

What was the intended audience?

Generative AI tools can be used to generate content for any audience based on the user’s prompt.

What is the intended purpose of the content?  Was it created to inform, to make money, to entertain?   

Generative AI tools can create convincing text and images that can be used to propagate many different ideas without being clear that the information or images could be false.

Where was it published?  Was it in a scholarly publication, a website, or an organization page?

Generative AI has already been used to create content for websites and news outlets. Considering whether the source is scholarly, has a good reputation and has a clear history of providing reliable information is useful for figuring out whether the information you find is useful or misleading.

Does it provide sources for the information?

Articles, news outlets, and websites that provide sources could be an indicator of reliability.  Further assessing the sources by following the links and citations to verify the information will help confirm that the information you find is reliable.

 

Credit: AI Tools and Resources, University of South Florida Libraries 

This content is from SIFT & PICK Fact Checking & Source Evaluation by SBCC Luria Library. SIFT & PICK by Ellen Carey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Evaluating Sources - ACT UP & Push Against Privilege

We evaluate resources to locate reliable and credible sources for our research whether it is for a class assignment or for personal interest. We evaluate resources so that we don't believe everything that we come across on the web and so that we are not fooled by that information. We also evaluate resources because it is our social responsibility to make sure that the information we share with others is trustworthy.  We also evaluate sources to make sure that the dominant voices in our society do not silence the minoritized voices.  In order to do so, we apply the ACT UP method to our evaluation.

 

Why ACT  UP?

  • We all have a responsibility to fact-check sources before we retweet or repost so that those who follow us are reading accurate and reliable information.
  • By definition, ACT UP means to act in a way that is different from normal or what is generally accepted.
  • To ACT UP, means to actively engage in dismantling oppressions and acting upwards to create a more socially just system.

What does ACT UP stand for?

Use the acronym below to evaluate your sources answering as many of these questions as you can. 

Author

  • Who wrote the resource? Who are they? Background information matters. Google the heck out of them.
  • If  you are looking at a website, is there an “About Us” section of the website? Google the website’s title/domain name/authors to see if any of them have been reported as a source of fake news.
  • Is there any information about the credentials and backgrounds of affiliated writers, editors, publishers, or domain owners (who.is etc.). Is there a “Legal” or “Disclaimer” section?
  • Pay attention to the domain name. (.edu, .gov, and .org) as opposed to (.com and .net).

Currency

  • When was this resource written?
  • When was it published? If you are on a website, can you find when the site was last updated?
  • Does this resource fit into the currency of your topic? Do you need up-to-date, current information?

Truth

  • How accurate/true is this information?
  • Can you verify any of the claims in other sources? Do the rule of three. Is this verifiable in three other sources?
  • Does the language of the source contain words to evoke an emotional response?
  • Are there typos and spelling mistakes?

Unbiased

  • Is the information presented in a way to sway the reader to a particular point of view?
  • Is there a conflict of interest? See if you can find out who funded the research. The funders might have a vested interest in the outcome of the research. Remember, research is expensive so follow the money.
  • Are the authors affiliated with any organizations or associations that would cause a conflict of interest?
  • Remember, bias is not always a bad thing as long as the source is explicit about their bias and agenda.

Privilege

  • There is privilege in publishing whereby mostly white scholars/researchers have the opportunity to publish their research.
  • Ask yourself, are they the only folks that might write or publish on this topic?
  • Who is missing in this conversation?
  • Take time to search for sources/authors who are not represented in the databases so that your research is well-rounded and inclusive.

Content on this has been borrowed with permission from Dawn Stahura 's Evaluating Sources: ACT UP (Links to an external site.).

 

Tips for Evaluating News Sources

Fake or fact scrabble tiles image.JPG

 

  1. When you open up a news article in your browser, open a second, empty tab.  Use that second window to look up claims, author credentials and organizations that you come across in the article.
  2. Fake news spans across all kinds of media - printed and online articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, radio shows, even still images. 
  3. For images, put them into Google images and search. Verify that what you are seeing corresponds to the event in question.
  4.  Check the account history of the source. Two red flags are: the number of posts and how long the account has been active. If it claims to be a well known source(like CNN or CBS) and only has a few posts in its history that is a clue. If it's a well known source and the account has only been active a short time that is another red flag.
  5. Think before you share.

More more tips on evaluating news and identifying fake news, view the research guide: Evaluating News: Fake News and Beyond.


Beware of Filter Bubbles 

Image result for filter bubble

 

Did you know that you have a filter bubble around you right now? That every time you do a search on Google, it tailors the results based on your previous search history?

Did you know that your search results will look different if you use Google on campus as opposed to using it at a cafe in Beverly? It's because Google is making certain assumptions about you based on your IP address.

While we all like customized information there is a real danger of being so trapped inside your filter bubble that you never see the other side of a story.  In order to be better informed, we need to know what each side is saying about an issue and not fall for confirmation bias (reading only sources that already fall in line with our current views). Here are two free resources to help you do just that!