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Research Basics

A Guide to Academic Research at Dugan Library

Evaluate Sources

The Dilemma

We live in an information age and have constant access to far more sources than at any other point in history. This can be great, but it also comes with the constant need to decide what information is useful, reliable, relevant, etc.

It's nobody's job to evaluate the entire internet, which is another way of saying that its everybody's job to evaluate the entire internet. Add when things like algorithms dictate what information you get exposed to in the first place (whether on social media or on web searches), and it can very quickly feel overwhelming.

Overwhelmed man

In academic research, as in other contexts where we share information, our credibility is also on the line. If I approvingly cite a debunked or retracted article or become over-reliant on sources representing a narrow perspective, I not only run the risk of misinforming people but also run the risk of damaging my credibility with my audience.

The Good News

While this can all be daunting, there is good news. Source evaluation skills are attainable and practicing those skills can create a virtuous cycle where the more you do some basic evaluation of sources, the more you gain context that makes future source evaluation easier. Taking the time to learn source evaluation skills can make research empowering rather than intimidating.

So how do I get started learning these skill? Great question! Here are a couple of starting points for thinking about source evaluation: