Chapter 13-3: How can you detect if your source is credible once you have found one?
In order to determine if your source is credible, ask yourself the following questions:
In what medium was the source published?
Was the text published in a peer-reviewed publication? When a text is peer reviewed, it means that other well-established authorities have read the author’s work before it was publish to confirm that the work is built on a solid foundation of established research, among other things. If yes, then the document is likely credible.
Was the source a book or magazine article published by a well-known publisher? If yes, then the document is likely credible; however, it may have “leanings.” In other words, the types of books or articles published by this publisher may generally be biased (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something you should be aware of as a reader). For example, the publisher may have “leftist” or “right-wing” leanings. It may be pro-economy or pro-environment. It may be pro-separation or not.
Was the source only published online (on the Internet)? A source that is only published online does not immediately make it invalid. It does, however, require extra work on the part of the researcher or essay writer to determine whether or not it is credible. Is this online source peer reviewed? It is well-known? Is it an authority on the issue that you are studying? Can authors publish directly to the public with little or no intervention on the part of editors and other researchers? These are all questions that you should ask yourself.
Who is the author?
Find out who the author that published the media is. In today’s online society, it is very easy to research an author. If you do not find anything, alarm bells should sound and you should probably not use the source. Here are some questions that you may wish to consider:
Is the author associated with a university or a well-known, reliable institution (an institution that is renowned in the field discussed by the source)? If the source’s author is not affiliated with an institution of one sort or another, you should question the credibility of the source.
What other media has the author published?
Who else has used this source? If well-known, well-established people are citing this author’s work, the source’s credibility score should go up in your head.
What? The source does not indicate who the author is? Uh oh. Trouble.
Who owns or hosts the website?
Is the website recommended by your library or your library’s database? If yes, the website is liable to be credible.
Is the source a blog or is the source on a website owned by an individual? If yes, avoid it unless you can verify the author’s credentials.
Is the source a wiki? If yes, avoid it. Anyone can publish on a wiki. Wikis may point you toward credible sources.
Is the source an electronic copy of a reliable print publication? If yes, then chances are the source is credible. For example, nytimes.com, newsweek.com, and wired.com are examples of credible online sources due to this reason.
How recent is the work?
In many areas of specialty, such as technology, psychology, etc., new things are being learned all the time. It’s important to have a recent publication. For most CEGEP work, a hard and fast rule of “5 years” should be applied, unless you really cannot find anything, in which case you can go as far out as “10 years.” Of course, if you are laying down a summary of the field’s original history, it is alright to move back as many years as you require.
Who is the audience?
After reviewing your source, ask yourself who the media was produced for. Do you think it was for academics? If so, there should be some sort of bibliography or “works cited” section at the end of the document. This is great information to have because it will point you in the direct of other potential credible sources. At the same time, it reaffirms that the author of the source has done some research. If your source provides many facts, statistics, or details without documentation, it may not be credible.
What is the title?
Be on the lookout for "suspicious" titles that are often indicative of a "content farm" website where information is devoid of meaning and was concocted in 30 minutes or less:
Titles that contain the word "I" in them; for example, "I went off a diet and here's what I learned"
Titles that begin with the word "Why;" for example, "Why you should stop feeding your cat milk"
Titles that begin with the word "What;" for example, "What is the best luxury SUV? The Jaguar F-Pace"
Titles that begin with the word "Wait," in them, followed by a question. For example, "Wait, did the President just knock over his secretary of state?"
Titles that begin with a noun, followed by the words "Hate This;" for example, "Doctors Hate This!" "Dentists Hate This!" "Mechanics Hate This!"
Titles that contain a vague pronoun reference or that leave out an essential detail about what the medium is about, enough that you must click on the article; for example, "Tesla just added THIS new feature." Why not just say what the feature is in the title? This is a clear example of click bait.
Ways NOT to judge credibility
Do not use information provided by a search engine to judge credibility. For instance, it is not because a site appears in top search results that it is credible. Likewise, do not simply judge credibility based on a website’s extension (for example, .org or .edu etc.). Sometimes students with little knowledge about their field are asked by their professors to publish texts for learning purposes on university websites.
Your professor is there to help
If you are unsure about a source, you can provide the author’s name, name of media, and publisher to your professor. He or she will be able to guide you on the credibility level of a given source.