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Citing Your Sources

Critical Evaluation of Sources

Evaluating all sources

Checking for signs of bias

  • Does the author or publisher endorse political or religious views that could affect objectivity?
  • Is the author or publisher associated with a special-interest group, such as Greenpeace or the National Rifle Association, that might present only one side of an issue?
  • Are alternative views presented and addressed? How fairly does the author treat opposing views?
  • Does the author’s language show signs of bias?

Assessing an argument

  • What is the author’s central claim or thesis?
  • How does the author support this claim—with relevant and sufficient evidence or with just a few anecdotes or emotional examples?
  • Are statistics consistent with those you encounter in other sources? Have they been used fairly? Does the author explain where the statistics come from? (It is possible to “lie” with statistics by using them selectively or by omitting mathematical details.)
  • Are any of the author’s assumptions questionable?
  • Does the author consider opposing arguments and refute them persuasively?
  • Does the author fall prey to any logical fallacies?


Evaluating Web sources

Authorship

  • Does the Web site or document have an author? You may need to do some clicking and scrolling to find the author’s name. If you have landed directly on an internal page of a site, for example, you may need to navigate to the home page or find an “about this site” link to learn the name of the author.
  • If there is an author, can you tell whether he or she is knowledgeable and credible? When the author’s qualifications aren’t listed on the site itself, look for links to the author’s home page, which may provide evidence of his or her interests and expertise.

Sponsorship

  • Who, if anyone, sponsors the site? The sponsor of a site is often named and described on the home page.
  • What does the URL tell you? The domain name extension often indicates the type of group hosting the site: commercial (.com), educational (.edu), nonprofit (.org), governmental (.gov), military (.mil), or network (.net). URLs may also indicate a country of origin: .uk (United Kingdom) or .jp (Japan), for instance.

Purpose and audience

  • Why was the site created: To argue a position? To sell a product? To inform readers?
  • Who is the site’s intended audience?

Currency

  • How current is the site? Check for the date of publication or the latest update, often located at the bottom of the home page or at the beginning or end of an internal page.
  • How current are the site’s links? If many of the links no longer work, the site may be too dated for your purposes.
Hacker, Diana and Barbara Fister. Research and Documentation.  Bedford / St. Martin's, 2011.  Web. 19 November 2012.