Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Students often receive research assignments requiring the use of credible sources. But what does it mean for a
source to be “credible”? Why is it important to use these sources? And how can you tell if
a source is credible? When we describe a source as “credible,” we’re basically saying that the information is high
quality and trustworthy. Essentially, that we can believe
what the source is telling us. When you use high-quality
sources to back up your points, you demonstrate your own
credibility as a writer, thereby contributing to the overall
effectiveness of your argument. The best quality research builds
on other high quality research. This is true of both your own work and
the work of professional researchers. There are several factors that
contribute to a source’s credibility. Among them are the author’s
level of expertise, her point of view, and the source’s publication date. The author’s level of expertise on
the topic he or she is writing about could take the form of
an advanced degree or other extensive experience in the field. A credible source often provides
information about the author’s credentials. Sometimes, however, the author’s
credentials may not be listed, and the publication itself can
be the marker of quality. This is often true for some
non-scholarly publications like well-respected newspapers and magazines, where the article’s content
is critically examined as part of the publication process. Another important component of a source’s
credibility is its point of view, in particular its potential bias. Bias is an inaccurate or unfair
presentation of information. In some cases, bias is intentional. A group with its own agenda may
sponsor research or information, and this sponsorship may
influence the results. Bias can also be unintentional. A writer’s perspective
may prevent him or her from being able to see
all sides of an issue. Sometimes you need unbiased
facts to support your point. But other times you might
want people’s opinions, and that’s OK as long as you acknowledge the source’s
perspective in your work. While bias can be difficult to detect, be aware that it can exist
in any kind of source, including things you find
through the library. In the academic publishing world, books and articles go through
a rigorous editorial process in which an editor or group of
scholars evaluate the work’s quality. When it comes to journal articles, this process is called peer review. Peer-reviewed articles are
considered high quality, because the review process
helps to filter out sources that are written by
unqualified or biased authors. Finally, with any source, consider when it was
published or last updated. Even something that was once high-quality can now be out-of-date and
unsuitable for some purposes. If I needed current statistics on the average cost of college
in the United States, a source published in the
1990s would be out of date. However, if I were looking
at the the increase in college tuition over the last few decades, a source from the 1990s
might fit my purposes. Of course, not every credible source
is appropriate for your research. Be sure to evaluate not only
a source’s trustworthiness, but also its appropriateness
for your argument. For help finding credible sources or determining whether a source
you’ve found is credible, ask a librarian!

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