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INTD 105: Freedom of Speech (Professor Auyer): Evaluating sources

Practice Exercise

  1. Read the "How do I Evaluate a Source?" Box
  2. Click on the link at the bottom of that box and evaluate the source
    • Answer the poll questions in the same box
  3. Read the "Scholarly vs. Not Scholarly" and "Primary vs. Secondary" boxes
  4. Open the two linked articles in the "Article Comparisons" box and compare them. Which one is a scholarly article and which one is not? Are they trustworthy sources to use when writing about environmental issues?
    • Answer the poll questions in the same box.
  5. Click on the Logical Fallacies Site and read through the fallacies. Find a non-trustworthy article online and see if you can identify at least one fallacy in the wild.
    • Post the article and the fallacy you found using this padlet link.

How do I Evaluate a Source?

1.) Figure out if the source fits your specific needs. As students, you need your sources to: 

  • Comply with the requirements or restrictions for your particular assignment in your syllabus
  • Have information that you can understand and that genuinely has something to contribute to your topic

This means that sometimes a blog post will be the best source, and sometimes a peer-reviewed scholarly paper. The type of source depends on the type of research you are doing, and your syllabus is a clue as to what kinds of sources will work.

2.) Figure out if the source is credible. Credibility is a hard concept to define, but it essentially means a source that a person conversant in the field would be able to reasonably trust as having legitimate information or being produced via proven methodology. As students starting out, you aren't expected to instantly know what sources are good. There are a couple of basic concepts to keep in mind:

  • Who wrote the source and why? Publications can often have specific agendas or biases, and often employ writers who share their views. A website written to inform will look different than a website written to sell products, and will likely have different approaches to truth and standards of evidence.
  • How recently was the source published? New research, new historical sources, and new information comes into light constantly, and more recent sources have the virtue of being able to access more of that information. Recency also depends on the topic you are researching, but as a basic ground rule you should rely more on articles written within the last couple of years than on stuff written before you were born.
  • How does it cite its sources? Any paper that shows its work through citing allows you to find the articles and check their accuracy. Different articles cite in different ways, which reflect the fact that they are used for different purposes. 
Is this a credible source for writing about Americans and their consumption of news?
Yes: 7 votes (100%)
No: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 7
Does this article cite any sources?
Yes: 5 votes (71.43%)
No: 2 votes (28.57%)
Total Votes: 7

Scholarly vs. Not Scholarly

Scholarly sources usually refer to sources created by scholars in a scholarly manner. Typically, this means that the article or book has gone through some variation of Peer Review and/or editing, in order to catch mistakes. It also assumes that the author has relevant expertise in the field they are writing in.

Figuring out if something is scholarly can be tricky, but there are a couple of rules that you can keep in mind:

  • Scholarly articles are longer than 2 pages
    • It's really difficult to write an appropriately rigorous paper in a couple of pages. Look for the longer articles.
  • Scholarly articles come from journals
    • Look for "the journal of" or names of associations. Also ask your professor or a librarian.
    • Generally, catchy or fun titles indicate something that is not scholarly, though there are a few exceptions.
  • Scholarly articles often have multiple authors
    • This is not always the case, but if you are looking at multiple authors it is very often a sign of higher levels of work.
  • Scholarly books tend to come from University Presses or well known educational publishing houses.

There's no one easy way to figure this out, but keeping these general guidelines in mind can help. Many databases in the library also have an option to select only Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed items, so that is an excellent short cut.

Primary Vs. Secondary

Primary Sources are produced close to the event or person in question, from someone who has personally participated in or witnessed the thing they are writing about.

Secondary Sources are produced farther from the event or person in question, working from other people's information or writing after a large amount of time has passed.

These definitions can be tricky: often whether something is a Primary or Secondary source can depend on your topic, and sources can switch back and forth. It's often worth consulting with your professor or a librarian to determine whether something qualifies as one or the other.

Article Comparisons

Which article is the scholarly article?
Laboratory Rodent Diets: 203 votes (99.02%)
Roundup Hysteria: 2 votes (0.98%)
Total Votes: 205
Is the Laboratory Rodent Diets article a credible source?
Yes: 12 votes (92.31%)
No: 1 votes (7.69%)
Total Votes: 13
Is the Roundup Hysteria article a credible source?
Yes: 8 votes (38.1%)
No: 13 votes (61.9%)
Total Votes: 21

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