The definition of a credible source can change depending on the discipline, but in general, for academic writing, a credible source is one that is unbiased and is backed up with evidence. When writing a research paper, always use and cite credible sources. Use this checklist to determine if an article is credible or not:
- Is the source in-depth (more than a page or two), with an abstract, a reference list, and documented research or data?
- Who is the audience (researchers, professors, students, general population, professionals in a specific field)?
- What is the purpose of the source (provide information or report original research or experiments, to entertain or persuade the general public, or provide news or information specific to a trade or industry)?
- Who are the authors? Are they respected and well-known in the field? Are they easily identifiable? Have they written about other similar topics? What are their credentials?
- Is the source reputable? Is it published on a reputable, non-biased web site, or in a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, and not from a newspaper, blog, or wiki?
- Is the source current for your topic?
- Is there supporting documentation (graphs, charts, illustrations or other supporting documentation)?
Open educational resources (OERs) are materials that are licensed for free use, with the purpose of teaching or learning. Use this checklist to find credible and useful OER's:
- Does the resource have a CC (Creative Commons) license where the resource can be reused or shared?
- Who is the author and what are his or her credentials? Have they written other content on this topic? Are they a professor or expert in the subject they are writing about?
- Is the content non-biased?
Where does your source come from?
- government or military (.gov or .mil) - Government or military websites end in .gov or .mil, and in general are reliable sources on the web. However, beware of political sites used to sway public opinion.
- university (.edu) - University web sites end in .edu, and are usually reliable. Use these sites with caution, checking for credibility and authority.
- company website (.com) - Company web sites generally end in .com. These sites are great for information about a particular company. However be aware that company websites are used to promote, so be sure the information is non-biased.
- special interest (.org) - While many professional organizations end in .org, there are also many .orgs that are biased and promote a specific agenda.
Evaluating Web Sites (5:16)
The Center for News Literacy makes the case for being smart consumers of online news. "The most profound communications revolution since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press seems to make it harder, not easier, to determine the truth. The digital revolution is characterized by a flood of information and misinformation that news consumers can access from anywhere at any time... This superabundance of information has made it imperative that citizens learn to judge the reliability of news reports and other sources of information that is passed along their social networks."
Check the facts
There are many fact-checking websites available online. Before using one of these websites, remember, a good fact checking service will use neutral wording and will provide unbiased, authoritative sources to support their claims. Look for the criteria below when searching for the facts.
- Does the website have an "About Us" section? Does it disclose a source of funding?
Knowing this information enables you to judge the website's purpose and viewpoint.
- Citations and evidence
- Is information cited so that you can track down the source and verify it?
- What evidence is used to prove the author's point? Is the evidence reliable, and is it used logically?
- For more tips, see the sections above.
- Websites that contain the suffix "lo" (e.g., Newslo) or that end in ".com.co".
These often present false information for satirical or other purposes.
- Websites that urge you to dox an individual or organization
- Websites that have amateurish design, use ALL CAPS, and try to play on your emotions
Those are often signs that information is not trustworthy and that you should research it further via other sources
- Memes making the rounds on Facebook or other social media sites
Try googling the topic of a meme or other doubtful story: if it is a legitimate news story, you'll probably find it covered by an established source like a major newspaper or TV news channel
Sensationalist headlines and odd photos whose purpose is not to publish legitimate news but to increase traffic at a website
Burst your filter bubble
Web browsers and social media sites employ algorithms that feed you information you've shown a preference for. This so called "filter bubble" connects us to news that tends to reinforce our set views, rather than challenging us with new ideas. When conducting research for class or simply making up your mind on an issue, try these strategies:
- Seek credible information from both sides of an issue: conservative and liberal; religious and atheist; industrialized and developing nations; etc.
- Use databases that aren't influenced by your previous web searches, for example:
- Experiment with tech solutions, such as How to Burst Your Filter Bubble offered by the University Library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Talk to people who hold views different from yours. That solution is offered by Eli Pariser, who wrote a book and did a Ted talk on filter bubbles.