Sources: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Ever scrolled through headlines and noticed sensationalism? Do you have a few news sources that you trust more than others? Do you read Wikipedia articles when you want to find out the basics of something (like most of us)?
As you know from your experience consuming media in everyday life, not all sources of information are equal. Generally, the more rigorous the editing process a publication goes through, the more reliable it is likely to be:
- The average Facebook post or tweet, for example, is written by just one person; for most academic purposes, such sources of information would therefore be lowest on the reliability scale.
- Likewise, while Wikipedia is great for finding basic knowledge, in most cases, the information has not been peer-reviewed or edited by experts, so its accuracy has not been verified. (Tip on Wikipedia, though: more and more of the entries contain footnotes, which can be great to find further information in more reliable sources!)
- By contrast, a book published by an academic press is screened by many specialists in the field and is likely to be much more reliable.
Here's a more extensive list of some standard sources, in order of least to most likely to be reliable:
- Tweets / Facebook post (least reliable: written by one person or a bot and immediately publishable)
- Blog entry (usually longer than a social media post; you can generally find out more about the writer's credentials)
- Info from a dot com website (remember, dot coms are inherently selling something)
- Newspaper article (online or print; remember, newspapers are also trying to sell themselves)
- Magazine article (similar to newspaper articles, though magazines tend to publish less frequently, giving more time for editing)
- Info from a dot org site (usually not trying to sell anything, but still, check source credentials)
- Info from a dot edu site or dot gov site (usually more reliable than a dot com site)
- Journal article (peer-reviewed journal articles are vetted by experts in the field)
- Book published by an academic press (goes through an extensive editorial process)
There are many characteristics to consider when evaluating the quality of a source; to review key concepts, please revisit the Foundations of Academic Writing presentation, "How to Look and Be Smart."
Finally, pro tip: sometimes, people hesitate to use Google Scholar (or regular Google) because they think the sources won't be academic enough. That's just silly; just use discernment.
Evaluating Sources Links