Evaluating Sources by Relevance, Date & Credibility

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Can you believe everything you hear? What about what you read online? Read this lesson to learn how to evaluate a source of information based on three criteria: relevance, date and credibility.

Evaluating Sources

We live in the Information Age, which can also be thought of as the Age of Technology. On a daily basis we take advantage of the fact that anything can be found out at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a smartphone. Anyone across the globe can post whatever kind of information they want on the internet. With this in mind, should we believe everything we read online? Of course not! We must all be very careful about trusting the information we find on the web.

The only way to combat the tendency to believe everything you read is to evaluate the source. In general, a source is anything from which something else comes. Specific to media or literature, this translates to where information comes from. The word evaluate means to assess the value of. Thus, if you are evaluating a source you are determining if the person or company that supplied the information is valuable and reliable. This will tell you if you can trust the information that is given.

In life in general, you should always be aware of where you are getting information from. However, you want to pay particular attention to the sources when you are researching or evaluating the research of others. There are three main categories you can use to assess any source: relevance, date, and credibility.

Relevance

The first category is relevance, which means the importance to the matter at hand. When discussing literature, a source is relevant if the content relates to the topic you are dealing with. For an example, let's say you are writing a research paper on the current positive and negative effects of immigration in the United States. A source will be relevant if it has information that relates to US immigration.

Let's look at that a bit closer. Say you are now on the research stage and are looking up information on immigration online. You find a website with lots of statistics on numbers of people leaving the country and those entering. It also has information on how those numbers affect different aspects of the society. However, upon closer inspection you see that this website is using data collected from China. Is this information relevant to the positive and negative effects of immigration in the United States? Of course not! This information is not relevant because it deals with a totally different country. Remember to make sure the source is always relevant to your specific topic.

Date

A second factor to consider when evaluating a source is the date, which refers to the time the source gathered or published the information. You want ensure you are always using up to date information. Imagine a geography class where the teacher uses maps from the 1600s. Those maps would be totally out of date! Many changes have occurred in the world between then and now.

Basically, always check the date of any source in order to verify it is still a valuable resource for information. For the immigration example, imagine finding a website with loads and loads of statistics and data on immigration into the United States. Wouldn't this be a fantastic source? It might, until you check to see that the date of the publication was 1995! The numbers and stats may have changed drastically in the past 20 years, so this source would be way out of date. Be sure to find sources that have information appropriate for the times.

Credibility

The final factor to consider is credibility, which is the quality of being trusted or believed. When discussing sources of information, having credibility means that the information is not biased in any way and can be trusted to be true. Remember, bias is any sort of prejudice or inclination to lean a certain way. If a source is biased, you cannot count on the information it provides.

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