"Don't believe everything you read" is true for information that you find in books, online, on social media, or anywhere. Even if a webpage looks professional and links to sources, it doesn't mean it's true and accurate.
Knowing how to assess if the information is true is a vital skill, now more than ever.
When publishers controlled publishing, they could face expensive lawsuits if they printed false or slanderous information. Publishers would not publish books or articles that were not accurate and had a review process that kept authors honest.
Publishers still do a good job of reviewing information that they print. However, some publishers have a reputation for printing "sensational novels, conspiracy theories, or supermarket tabloids.
Self-publishing is on the rise because a print book can be printed, and e-books can be uploaded to Amazon for a low cost.
Here are 7 questions to ask to determine if a book is useful for your assignment.
- Does the author give credit to other research?
Academic work shows its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or researchers. Other research will be credited in the references or bibliography and with in-text citations.
- Can the book or journal be found in university libraries?
If academic libraries purchase the book and public libraries do not, it is written for an academic audience.
- Is the book or journal in library databases?
If book reviews or articles are in academic databases, it can suggest that the material is scholarly.
- Is the book or article written by an expert?
If the author is cited in other textbooks or articles, this suggests they are an expert in their field. Scholarly books and articles normally list an author's academic credentials and any academic affiliation.
- When was the book or article published?
In technology fields such as nursing, a five-year-old book may be obsolete, while literary criticism may be valid for generations.
- Is the publisher known for academic publications?
If a publisher has expertise in editing and distributing to a specialized market, they probably stand behind the accuracy of anything they publish.
- Do research methods, and evidence used by the author seem consistent with other books and articles you have read?
If the book or article contradicts what you have read before, this may be a warning sign to doubt the information.
In the United States, there is minimal governmental editing or censorship of what is posted on the internet. Webpages that are outdated, unsupported, pranks, fake news, and conspiracy theories thrive on the internet. Websites need to be checked to verify that you can use them for your assignments.
Here are 10 questions to ask to determine if a webpage can be used for your assignments. If you cannot answer any question on this list, you may want to avoid using the webpage.
- Does the webpage have references and citations for other sources the author used?
Academic work shows its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or researchers. The author should credit other research and works.
- Is an organization or author responsible for the webpage?
An organization or scholar affiliated with a university or major corporation will take great pains only to publish truthful work. Their reputation for knowledge and accuracy is fundamental to their success.
- Is the web address a .gov or .edu?
These two domain file extensions are limited to the United States government and higher education institutions. The information posted on these sites is almost always accurate.
Webpages for organizational and company sites (.org and .com) are open to any special interest. These webpages must be evaluated based on the reputation of the organization or company.
- When was the site created or last updated?
Many trustworthy webpages do not provide dates or only provide the range of dates when the pages were created. However, if you require current information, look for pages with a posted, created, or edited date.
- Can you determine the purpose of the page?
Webpages have different purposes: to provide information, (2) to promote beliefs or a community; (3) to sell a product or services, or (4) to entertain. Only the first category is likely to be committed to truth and acknowledge different viewpoints.
- Do the methods and evidence cited by the author seem consistent with other sources you have read?
If the research method or results are unusual, the information may be bogus.
- Does the website have spelling, grammar, or math errors?
If you are using the webpage to support your academic paper, it should be correct in every way. This shows the person who wrote it is educated and knowledgeable.
- Can you determine the intended audience?
Pages for high school students are easy to understand but should not be cited in a college academic paper.
- Do other webpages refer to this webpage?
While links do not validate the content, if a tool such as Alexa.com shows hundreds of links to a site, it indicates other webpage creators have found the page noteworthy.
- Does the content appear to be plagiarized?
Many websites copy entire articles from Wikipedia or other webpages without providing any credit to the original source.
Beck, S. E. (2009). Evaluation criteria. Retrieved from New Mexico State University Library website: http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/evalcrit.html
Branham, C. (1998). A student's guide to WWW research: Web searching, Web page evaluation, and research strategies. Retrieved from Saint Louis University, Department of English website: http://www.slu.edu/colleges/AS/ENG/cai/research
Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2010). Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age (Project Information Literacy Progress Report). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED535166.pdf
Purdue University. (2010). Evaluating information sources. Retrieved from http://gemini.lib.purdue.edu/core/files/evaluating4.html
Virginia Tech University Libraries. (2013). Evaluating Internet information. Evaluating webpages for research. Retrieved from http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/evaluate