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Evaluate Your Resources: sub-module 5 of 5 of how to research

At the same time as you’re finding content from your library and from the web, you should be evaluating the information for quality. Keep in mind that not all the information you find online is credible and reliable or even appropriate for your topic, so you must take a close look at what you are using. Use the tips below to determine whether or not you should use a particular source for your research assignment.

 

Tips

  • Evaluate everything you find as you’re searching.Remember not everything you find online is reliable. And depending on your topic, you may need your information more current. Think about what types of resources you need and evaluate each one as you’re searching. With practice, this step will become second-nature!
  • Use an evaluation checklist.Use the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose (CRAAP) Evaluation Checklist, or another evaluation tool when selecting websites. These evaluation tools will help you identify the best possible resources for your assignment.
  • Evaluate journal articles critically.Just because they are published in academic journals, does not mean they shouldn't be evaluated for validity. Take a look at the article sections, and evaluate information shared by the authors critically. If a claim made in a journal article seems at odds with consensus, try to find other articles that back up or dispute the claims made. For example, one article may be published about the benefits of an alternative health method. However, consensus from various academic journals may dispute this claim, and the first article can be ignored.
  • Consider content in open access journals.Some open access journals are more reliable than others. Whenever using this type of an information source, try to find out as much as possible about the journal itself, and its article selection process.

Recognizing Fake News

What is Fake News?

The term "fake news" is a problematic term. It can easily be politicized and used as a weapon and to undermine news sources which may not agree with one's beliefs. Instead, the terms misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information may be better used to describe the many facets of "fake news".

  • Misinformation is information that is false, but the person who is disseminating it believes that it is true.
  • Disinformation is information that is false, and the person who is disseminating it knows it is false. It is a deliberate, intentional lie, and points to people being actively disinformed by malicious actors.
  • Mal-information is information, that is based on reality, but used to inflict harm on a person, organisation or country. An example is a report that reveals a person’s sexual orientation without public interest justification.
A Venn diagram with two circles- one labelled “false” and the other labelled “intent to harm.” In the “false” circle is Misinformation, which includes false connection and misleading content. In the “intent to harm” circle is Mal-information, which includes (some) leaks, (some) harassment, and (some) hate speech. In the section where the two circles overlap is dis-information, which includes false content, imposter content, manipulated content, and fabricated content.

Adapted from: "Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation: Handbook for Journalism Education and Training" by UNESCO is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Categories

Click on the plus signs (+) to get more information about different types of fake news.

Other Resources

What is NOT Fake News?

The accusation of 'fake news' is becoming a common way to dismiss any news item that people don't like. In light of this trend, it is more important than ever to understand what is NOT fake news.

Breaking News that is verified and corrected as a situation unfolds may contain factual errors that are later amended. Watch for biased assumptions here. 

Opinion Pieces, Commentary and Editorials should be labeled as such.so it is clear to the reader. These articles may use oversimplification, hypothetical situations, and hyperbole to make their point.

Journalism that makes you uncomfortable, or that clashes with your worldview.


Image created by Sarah Wasko.

Evaluation Checklists

Download the evaluation checklist and refer to it when you need to. Test your knowledge of the CRAAP test below.

Understanding the CRAAP Test Activity

Evaluating Journal Articles

Academic journal articles communicate or describe research on a specific subject. Scholarly journal articles present original research, while other comment on previously published research on a topic, in literature reviews.


When evaluating academic journal articles for quality, take a look at the individual sections of the paper.

 

The Abstract is a summary of an article. An Abstract provides a big picture overview of what the article is about, synthesizing the most important information. It should also identify both the purpose of the research, as well as its conclusions.

Question to ask:
  1. According to the abstract, what is the main point of the article?

The Introduction should give you an understanding of what is being researched, how, and why the research is of importance. When you read the introduction section of a journal article, you should have a clear idea of what the article is about, and what the research focus is.

An Introduction will identify the importance of the research to the academic field, and provide you with a clear hypothesis or a research question/statement.

Questions to ask:
  1. What issues do the authors seem concerned about?
  2. What is the authors’ research question or hypothesis?
The Literature Review is a comprehensive scan of previously published research on a specific topic. Authors use the literature review to provide readers with a current understanding of the topic, and identify existing research gaps.

Questions to ask:
  1. How relevant is the literature review to the article's research question/s?
  2. Does the literature review include opposing viewpoints?
In the Methods section, you should be able to find information about the authors' research process. Was the research qualitative or quantitative? How big was their sample group/test population? On occasion authors will include the full research instrument in the Appendix (at the end of the article). The Methodology section might feature tables, statistical analyses, calculations, and questions asked as part of the research.

Questions to ask:
  1. What type of study did the authors undertake to arrive at their results (e.g. randomized trials, case studies)?
  2. How was the data collected (e.g. survey, focus groups, individual interviews)?
  3. How extensive was the population sample?

The Results section is where you find information about the final results of the authors' research. Here, you should be able to read about, the analyzed results of the study, as well as have access to raw statistical data.

Are these results shared with the readers? Are they clearly stated? Is there access to supporting analysis such as graphs, charts, tables that are clear and easy to follow? do you have access to the statistics? Can you figure out the results of the experiment, survey, etc, without a discussion of why they occurred?

Questions to ask:
  1. What are the authors' findings?
  2. Are the findings aligned to the main research question/s?
  3. Do the authors address the problems or limitations of their research methods?
Check out the discussion of the results and the authors overall observations in the conclusion of the article. Are all the results of the experiment, survey, etc discussed? Are the conclusions drawn from this experiment based on enough data? Are there previous studies done on this topic and are they part of the discussion, or are you left confused?

Questions to ask:
  1. What evidence do authors provide to support or dispute their research question?
  2. Do the authors provide any recommendations as a result of their findings?
  3. Are any conflicts of interest disclosed?
The References section provides you with a full scope of research consulted as part of the authors' project. References are an excellent way to find additional journal articles on a specific topic.

Fact Checking

Lateral vs. Vertical Reading

From the context of fake news, vertical reading involves examining the news source to determine the credibility of a news story. This could mean examining a news website's About Us page, looking at grammatical errors within the article, determining the author's bias, and checking the sources the authors used. However, depending solely on vertical reading can be problematic since content is easily created and fabricated online.

In addition to using vertical reading, another method of evaluating news is lateral reading. This involves going beyond the news source and performing further research on the news source, its authors, and information being presented in the news story.

Source: Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information - open in a new window

Tips for Reading Laterally

  • Investigate the Source Look at what others are telling you about the news source/author and not what they're saying about themselves. Tip: Search the source and author's name to see what types of sites are referencing them or what they're saying about them.
  • Go Upstream: Find the Original Source Trace back to the original reporting source of the data or information. Once you've figured out the original source, you can then proceed with verifying its credibility.
  • Look for Trusted Sources Check out fact-checking sites (see the Check your news tab for examples) to see if these sites have checked the news story. Fact-checking sites can save you time since they have already done the verification work. Consider traditional news sources, such as newspapers. If you're unsure about a news story found in a source you're not familiar with, you can search online to see if the story has been covered by major news sources.
  • Practice "Click Restraint" Before clicking on a search result, examine the URL and information snippets about the source.

Sources: Online Verification Skills with Mike Caulfield - open in a new window; Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information - open in a new window

Learn more:

What are Filter Bubbles?

Filter bubbles are created by algorithms and dictate what we see online. These personalized filters may be based on a combination of different elements, such as our search history, the websites we visited, the posts we comment on, or our location. These algorithms impact the content of our "information diet".

As users, we don't have much control on what gets into our filter bubble, and more importantly we don't know what gets edited out by these algorithms. Filter bubbles could feed us an information diet with mostly "information desserts" and not much "information vegetables". It poses the danger of intellectual isolation where we only see information that reinforces our views, or information that is within our comfort zones. This could potentially hinder our ability to think critically about a topic since algorithms have the power to edit out content which challenges or broadens our worldviews.

Sources: Beware Online "Filter Bubbles" by Eli Pariser; How News Feed Algorithms Supercharge Confirmation Bias by Eli Pariser

Tips for Breaking Out of Your Bubble

  • Follow Different Voices Get a balanced information diet by seeking different perspectives of a topic, such as viewing sites that cover diverse perspectives or viewing social media feeds that offer a more balanced viewpoint.
  • Go Incognito Use incognito browsers, regularly delete your search histories, and if possible, try to use the Internet without being logged into social media accounts.
  • Delete Cookies Browser cookies are files saved into our browsers which determines what we see on a particular website. Consider deleting your cookies in your browser(s) frequently.

Verify news/websites

Checking Websites for Credibility

  • Methods you use for evaluating academic sources (such as the CRAAP test) can be applied to websites too
  • Examine the URL: fake news sites will mimic the look of a real news site, but the web address will contain clues. Watch for blogging urls, or unusual domain extensions like '.com.co'.
  • Check the 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages
  • Take a look at the other articles, ads and content on the site
  • Do a web search with the name of the site and keyword 'fake'

Tools - Fact Checking Websites

Fact-checking websites can be useful tools in determining if a news story is accurate. These sites perform the fact-checking by reviewing the story's claims and verifying the validity of the information and authors. Check out some of these fact-checking websites.

Verify images

Tools

Reverse Image Search Tools: find for the origins of an image by uploading or linking to the image:

Platform Tools

There is a lot of talk about ways that tech companies can combat fake news, but there are many stumbling blocks.

Chrome and Mozilla have a variety of browser extensions - open in a new tab that try to flag fake news. If you are trying one out, be sure to check what criteria they use to categorize sites. Some conspiracy sites have created their own detectors that will flag all mainstream media as fake!

It will be interesting to watch this technology develop, but for now, we recommend that you be your own detective!

Resources