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6.3: Evaluating for Credibility

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    Evaluating for Credibility

    Next, you’ll be evaluating each of the sources that you deemed relevant.

    Credibility is the degree to which a source can be trusted. What are the clues for inferring a source’s credibility? Let’s start with evaluating websites, since we all do so much of our research online. But we’ll also include where to find clues relevant to sources in other formats when they differ from what’s good to use with websites. Looking at specific places in the sources will mean you don’t have to read all of every resource to determine its worth to you.

    And remember, the more you take these steps, the faster it goes because always examining your sources becomes second nature.

    What Used to Help

    It used to be easier to draw conclusions about an information source’s credibility, depending on whether it was a print source or a web source. We knew we had to be more careful about information on the web–simply because all the filters that promoted accuracy involved in the print publishing process were absent from most web publishing. After all, it takes very little money, skill, and responsible intent to put content on the web, compared with what has to be done to convince print publishers that your content is accurate and that they will make money by printing it.

    However, many publishers who once provided only print materials have now turned to the web and have brought along their rigorous standards for accuracy. Among them are the publishers of government, university, and scholarly (peer-reviewed) journal websites. Sites for U.S. mainline news organizations also strive for accuracy rather than persuasion–because they know their readers have traditionally expected it. All in all, more websites now take appropriate care for accuracy than what used to be true on the web.

    Nonetheless, it still remains very easy and inexpensive to publish on the web without any of the filters associated with print. So we all still need the critical thinking skills you’ll learn here to determine whether websites’ information is credible enough to suit your purpose.

    5 Factors to Consider

    Evaluating a website for credibility means considering the five factors below in relation to your purpose for the information. These factors are what you should gather clues about and use to decide whether a site is right for your purpose.

    • The source’s neighborhood on the web.
    • Author and/or publisher’s background.
    • The degree of bias.
    • Recognition from others.
    • Thoroughness of the content.

    How many factors you consider at any one time depends on your purpose when seeking information. In other words, you’ll consider all five factors when you’re looking for information for a research project or other high-stakes situation where making mistakes have serious consequences. But you might consider only the first three factors at other times.

    Lateral Reading

    One of the best approaches for evaluating sources and identifying fake or misleading news, is lateral reading. Lateral reading is when you compare a source to other sources in order to evaluate its credibility. Through lateral reading you can verify the source's evidence, get better context for the information provided, and find potential biases or weaknesses in its arguments.

    Most websites or other sources aren't going to tell you they are biased. Nor will misleading or inaccurate information be openly labeled as such. With the amount of information that we're confronted with every day, it is impossible to fact-check every single piece of information. It's important to prioritize information as you receive it. Some information may be unimportant and doesn't need to be fact-checked.

    Some information may sound important, but you may not have time to verify it; in which case you should note it as something that isn't confirmed. But when you are encountering information that you want to digest and put to use at school, work, or share with others; then you should take some time to verify that information. While you can and should look for certain markers of quality (such as author credentials or experience), lateral reading can give you the best understanding of what is and is not accurate.

    Reading laterally just means to search and find other sources that can confirm or refute the information you've encounted. For example, if you see a social media post making a claim; you can then search online to find Wikipedia, news articles, and other sources that discuss the same information! Do they sound like they are in agreement? If you look up the author, can you find information that makes them seem unbiased? If there is a claim about specific data or referencing a study, can you find the original source of that data or study?

    This page titled 6.3: Evaluating for Credibility is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Daniel Wilson.

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