Present times are sometimes mentioned as the “Information Age”. In the 21st century, people face excessive quantity of information every day and society often deals with information smog spread by various media. Technological advances of past few decades substantial boost, therefore apart from traditional ways of getting knowledge about actual issues such as newspapers or communication; we nowadays receive various types of information characterised by unique audio-visual experience – mainly on the Internet.
The accessibility of general education allowed much more individuals and groups to inform the others about happenings around, as well as create their own opinion and express it in public. Mentality and values of this century provided an opportunity for such large opinion spectrum as never before in history. We live in countless points of views and ideas which deserve to be heard and noticed. Every day we are confronted with subjective perspectives and we are supposed to distinguish objectivity from subjectivity. It is up to us to decide who and what deserves our trust and to look for the truth – responsibly and carefully.
In order to get to know the world and everything that happens around us in the most authentic way as possible, we should set strict criteria for what we trust. We should care more about what we consider relevant and we should effectively examine every source and information. Each research should be deep and complex. This world offers us more than superficial or subjective ideas. The information age offers us the choice.
Everything that you create is based on some particular information. Remember, if the basic is reliable and of a good quality, the product will be the same. Keep this in mind while writing your school work or project. Here are some strategies to evaluate any information critically.
Deciding whether the source is reliable
In the moment, when you start searching for information, you chose your potential sources. As there are plenty of them, you should examine them with “a critical eye”. Smart researchers continually ask themselves two basic questions:
“Is this source relevant?” – This question will help you avoid losing your time by reading sources which are not valuable for your current topic.
“Is this source reliable?”-This question will help you identify appropriate and trustworthy sources.
Do small check list and ask yourself these two questions not to move away from your topic and reach relevant information.
Reliability and validity
Information sources may be different. Do not forget – they all are not equal. Especially Internet is likely to present information which can be misleading. But how we can find out a reliable source among such a number of pages and publications? Always consider these facts about your source:
Do the sources include reliable facts?
Has the language of the website been checked? (grammar, spelling, etc.)
Is the publisher reputable and respected?
Is the purpose of the text or sponsorship clear?
Is there a link to the publishing or sponsoring organisation?
Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
Primary and secondary sources
By considering what kinds of sources are most suitable for your topic you can perform your research efficiently. We can identify two kinds of sources: primary and secondary.
- Primary sources: the direct source of information. You will find basic and crucial data or facts about your topic.
For example, if you write a paper about the First Amendment related to the freedom of speech, the text of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights would the primary source.
Examples of primary sources:
Historical documents such as diaries or letters
Autobiographies or other personal accounts
- Secondary sources: they are one step further from the primary sources. Information is discussed, interpreted, analysed, consolidated or reworked. They can also show you different points of view concerning your topic. For example, researching a paper about the First Amendment, you might read articles about legal cases that involved First Amendment, or editorials expressing commentary on the First Amendment.
Examples of secondary sources:
Literary and scientific reviews
Your research should be mainly based on primary sources of information. They are carefully reviewed and written by experts. Generally prefer primary or secondary sources of high quality, such as:
Academic publications and articles in academic/educational journals
Books and magazines created for educated general audience
Government documents, such as books, reports, and web pages
Documents posted online by reputable organisations, such as universities and research institutes
Textbooks and reference books (which are usually reliable but may not cover a topic in great depth)
Some sources should be avoided. They can be written to attract attention or present subjective opinion for a specific reason. For example, vaguely moderated or unmoderated media content, such as Internet discussion boards, blogs, free online encyclopaedias, radio talk shows, television news shows with obvious political biases, personal websites, or chat rooms.
Relevance of information
Evaluation of relevant information
Apart from the source where the information comes from, when considering its relevance, it is required to bear in mind some other aspects of it. We offer you some useful question to judge credibility and relevance of particular information.
Accuracy and reality check
Can you verify the information by another source?
How does the new information fit what is already known?
Can you find quotations?
Is there a bibliography included?
Remember complexity. Each research refers to an existing body of knowledge. Deep and accurate research helps you to create a relevant picture of reality. Always check more sources and compare statements.
May there be any commercial or other misleading interest?
Is advertising included at some point?
Does the page exhibit a particular point of view or bias?
Is the information complex?
Sometimes the main goal of the author may be other than to inform you. Be watchful and aware of commercial purposes and manipulative methods hidden in texts which may impact actual content. Try to distinguish subjective opinions from relevant information.
Can you find the date of the first publication?
Does the information related to particular topic change a lot in time?
Are the links functional?
The world is a dynamic place where everything can change very quickly. Do not forget to check the date and be actual.
Are the topics covered in depth?
Does the content appear to be complete?
If the material lacks any important details, it won´t mean that you are supposed to ignore it. This point is related with the first one, since you can easily complete the information by further research.
Sources for further research
Here are some useful links for those who understand how important the quality of information is. Feel free to continue with your own studies and do not hesitate to use academic literature if available. Good luck with being well informed!
To practice, choose a topic of your research. We recommend you to work with a current issue or generally known affair – this would prove you easier beginning with advanced research.
Visit your library’s website or consult with a reference librarian to determine what periodicals indexes or databases would be useful for your research.
Depending on your topic, you may rely on a general news index, a specialised index for a particular subject area, or both. Search the catalogue for your topic and related keywords. Print out or bookmark your search results.
Identify at least one to two relevant periodicals, indexes, online news databases or databases.
Perform a keyword search to find potentially relevant articles on your topic.
Save your search results. If the index you are using provides article summaries, read these to determine how useful the articles are likely to be.
Identify three to five articles to review more closely. If the full article is available online, read it. If not, plan to visit our library within the next few days to locate the articles you need.
Use a search engine to conduct a web search on your topic. Refer to the tips provided earlier to help you conduct your search. Evaluate your search results critically based on the criteria you have learned. Identify and bookmark one or more websites that are reliable, reputable, and likely to be useful in your research.
Relevance of information and source reliability
|– double-check your information on different sites in order to be sure that they are correct.
|– use sites that don’t list their sources, anyone could have written them.
|– look at well-known sites. They are more likely to be truthful, such as BBC, New York Times, Spiegel, …
|– use articles that are not up-to-date. Some things might have changed over time.
|– think about what you are reading. Can the information you read be correct?
|– use information from texts with many grammatical mistakes. They seem unreliable. The person that wrote that looks careless and unprofessional.
|– use different types of resources such as newspaper articles, TV,… (not only the Internet)
|– rely on the information you heard someone say without looking-up if what they said is true.
|– ask others for help. You could ask someone that knows something about the topic.
|– only rely on your own knowledge. You could have misunderstood some things.
|– try and find articles from newspapers of the country you are representing (e.g. in MUN). They often represent the country’s opinion better.
|– try and remember/use every little detail. During your discussion time, the other delegates won’t know these details.
|– try to look at the official site of the department of state, here you can most likely find the accurate opinion of this country on the topic.
|– use sites that do not seem trustworthy due to their design or inappropriate advertisement.
|– try and contact someone in the ministry. (not very likely to work, but you can still try)
Jill Kess, Olivier Welscher, YELclub Lycée Michel-Rodange Luxembourg