Why We Do It
Evaluating information is an important step of the research process. Evaluating is when you use your critical thinking skills to decide if a resource is appropriate for your research. Keep in mind, ‘appropriate’ resources can look differently for different research questions. An appropriate resource should be something that is a reliable source of information and is relevant to your question.
Before you can answer if something is reliable, you should think about two things:
- Who do you trust and why?
- The difference between truth and fact.
When you do research at the library, you trust that what you find there is helpful and trustworthy. Ask yourself: why are the books and articles here trustworthy? Generally, it’s because of the authoritativeness of the college library and the librarians that have chosen those items to be in the collection. Authority on a topic is usually determined through years of experience and study but experts can look different in different contexts.
For example, a new parent might want parenting books written by authors with a Ph.D. in Child Development, but they might also ask their friends that already have children for advice. They would trust each source for different reasons. The author with a Ph.D. has studied the subject for many years. While a friend with children has practical experience raising a child. Each have authority in different areas of child development, and both are valued sources. You might rely on the author with a Ph.D. to know what clinical development stages your child should achieve and when. While you might rely on your friend with children to get recommendations for how to soothe your child when they start teething.
During your research, you will find different resources that you trust. But depending on your question and the purpose of your research, one might strengthen your work more than the other.
Remember to ask yourself when looking for resources: Do you trust this author? The publication? The information? Why do you trust it?
Something to Keep in Mind: Truth vs fact
Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth can be relative to a person’s experience, which means that the truth changes depending on the person because it’s an interpretation. Facts are objective, can be verified, and are supported by evidence. Think about eyewitness testimonies. You see a couple arguing on the street. What are the facts and what are the truths? The fact is you saw two people speaking loudly. For you, the truth is that they’re arguing. But for them, maybe that’s just how they speak to each other, or maybe they’re actors on a prank show pretending to see if you’ll intervene. Facts inform truth, but a truth is not always a fact.
How We Evaluate
Evaluating information can seem like an intimidating task. Here is a guide to help you in deciding if something is a good and appropriate resource. Questions to ask:
- About the author:
- Who is the author? What makes them an expert?
- Do they have affiliations? A school? Professional organization?
- About the article/publisher:
- When was it written/published/posted? Does timeliness matter for your subject?
- Why was it written?
- What type of publishing is it? Newspaper? Academic? Trade?
- Is the publisher known for a certain point of view?
- About the information:
- What is the argument and how is it supported?
- Who is the audience?
- Does it contain different sides/points of view of an argument?
Here’s more about evaluating resources:
Avoiding Confirmation Bias
It is crucial to look for multiple sides of an argument to avoid confirmation bias. When you do research, you might use an article that helps support your work. But pay attention if that’s all you start to find, or that’s all you include. While it’s nice to be right, it’s also nice to have a well-researched paper. Your search terms and where you search might only be giving you results that have the same point of view, so switch them up and try to find a different point of view. Think about it this way: if you’re a dog person that subscribes to pro-dog YouTube channels, all you’ll get in your recommendations are videos about dogs being the best. You won’t be exposed to why cats aren’t so bad and your pro-dogs argument won’t carry much weight if your readers can’t tell how knowledgeable you are on the subject of pets. If your evidence is strong, then you should include contradictory information to create a great argument and you will prove yourself as an expert in your subject area.