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Evaluating Sources for Reliability, Credibility, and Worth

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  • 0:05 Evaluating Research
  • 0:45 Purpose
  • 1:35 Reliability
  • 2:38 Credibility
  • 3:46 Worth
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

It's important to have information that is reliable, credible, and worthwhile in your speech. Sometimes, it's hard to determine these factors. This lesson will help you!

Evaluating Research

It's happened to the best of us. You're researching a speech, a paper, or a project and you are having a hard time finding the information you need. Finally, you locate a few sources that could be useful to you. There's only one problem -- now you're having a hard time finding the information for your works cited page.

Your sources don't have authors, some don't have dates or copyrights, and others are from websites that look less than professional. You turn in your paper or give your speech to your teacher, and she isn't happy with your research. What do you do? In this lesson, you will learn how to evaluate your sources for reliability, credibility, and worth.

Purpose

Before you evaluate your source, you need to first evaluate the purpose of your research. If you are researching for an academic paper, then you need to have very credible, reliable, and worthwhile sources because your teacher or professor will be judging the authenticity of the sources. However, if you are perusing the Internet for general interest, then you are left to your own judgment of the information.

Once you've determined the purpose of your research, you are still responsible for judging the worth of your research. How do you go about doing this? There's no cut and dry method of evaluating a source. Sometimes even a professional-looking site will have inaccurate information. You will need to evaluate your source based on its reliability, credibility, and overall worth. Let's discuss how to determine the reliability of a source first.

Reliability

The reliability of a source can be determined by two factors:

  • Recency
  • Verifiability

A document is more likely to be a reliable source of information if it has been published within the past few years. There isn't a hard cutoff here, but generally, the more recent a source, the better. This is because information changes and evolves over time. Just like we know now that the Earth isn't flat, there's a lot of information that has been disproven and proven over time. If you are looking at an article on a government or institution website, make sure the copyright on the website is recent.

A source can also be tested for reliability if it can be verified. Can you find the same information confirmed in other sources? Does the information make sense? Are there many other sources that contradict the information in your article? If you can find the information confirmed in other sources or even the article is used as a reference in other sources, then you know your research can be verified.

Credibility

The credibility of a source can be determined by two criteria:

  • The author's credentials
  • If it comes from an unbiased source

First, you can determine the credibility of an article if you can find the author's credentials somewhere in the article. If you can't find this information, then try researching the author. If the author has credentials in the field of the article, then you know that your research is credible. If the author has no credentials or they are in a field that doesn't relate to the article, then it is recommended that you use a different piece of research for your speech.

Second, you need to determine if your research is from an unbiased source. If it turns out that the author of the article is a member of an organization that is on a particular side (for example, a member of the NRA writing an article on gun control), then it is less likely that the article is unbiased. This isn't to say that members of an organization can't write unbiased information, but your research is more credible if it comes from a source that has no clear leanings on one side of an issue. This is also true if you find the article on an organization's website.

Worth

Now that you are able to identify the reliability and credibility of a source, let's discuss the worth of an article. You'll want to examine two factors in the worth of the source or the article:

  • The sponsoring organization
  • Whether or not the information is peer reviewed

The sponsoring organization of a website is the primary source for the article's worth. The sponsoring organization is the institute that hosts the website. There are many institutes, companies, government organizations, and educational institutions that are commonly known to be worthwhile and credible sources. These places have been around for a while and have developed a reputation for accuracy and reliability.

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