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Writing Workshop: MSP 3196

Research help for MSP 3196: Writing Workshop.

Evaluation Criteria

Tilted scalesUse the criteria below to help you evaluate a source. As you do, remember:

  • Each criterion should be considered in the context of your topic or information need. For example, currency changes if you are working on a current event vs. a historical topic.

  • Weigh all four criteria when making your decision. For example, the information may appear accurate, but if the authority is suspect you may want to find a more authoritative site for your information.

  • When in doubt about a source, talk about it with your professor or a librarian.

Criteria to consider:

  1. Currency: When was the information published or last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?
  2. Relevance: Is this the type of information you need (ex. a research study or scholarly article)? Is it related to your topic? Is it detailed enough to help you answer questions on your topic?
  3. Authority: Who is the author or creator of the information (can be an individual or an organization)? Are they an expert on your topic? Has the source been peer reviewed? Who is the publisher? Are they reputable?
  4. Accuracy: Is the information true? What information does the author cite or refer to?  Is this a research study with methods you can follow? Can you find this information anywhere else? Can you find evidence to back it up from another resource? Are studies mentioned but not cited (this would be something to check on)? Can you locate those studies?
  5. Purpose/perspective: What is the purpose of the information? Was it written to sell something or to convince you of something? Is this fact or opinion based? Is it unfairly biased?

Tips for Doing Your Own Fact-Checking

check markWhat Is a Fact?

A fact is a statement that can be verified. A statement of opinion is not a fact. As a fact-checker, you are working with content that is written, not researching new material. Therefore, you must read the document and identify and extract all content in need of fact checking.

How Do You Fact-Check?

The first step is to read through the entire document. Next, read the document again, this time highlighting, underlining, or marking all facts that can be verified, including phrasing and word choices such as “always” and “exactly." The following are common places to start when fact-checking:

  • Always ask yourself, “Who would know this?” to find the best resource.
  • Always ask, “Does this make sense?”
  • Check assertions about scientific theories and evidence. Sometimes, the easiest way to do this will be to contact scientists in the field; other times, the information will be well-established in the literature.
  • Confirm statistics.
  • Check all proper names, titles, product names, place names, locations, etc.
  • Check terms used. Are they commonplace and agreed upon in the scientific community? Do they need clarification?
  • Check declarative statements, for example, “…this is a big deal,” “the area is huge,” "always," "exactly," etc. The reason it is a “big deal” (how “huge” is the area?) should be explained in the text. If it isn’t, find out why: Is it a big deal because of money, time, compared with something else?
  • Be particularly cautious of facts stated absolutely.
  • Verify any numbers used in the article.

Verify Facts

Choose quality resources to verify facts. In addition to many of the resources listed throughout this guide, databases that provide background information contained in dictionaries/encyclopedias are good starting points because of their quick overviews and easy-to-read nature. Try some of the following:

[Some of this text is from www.scienceliteracyproject.org authored by Jennifer Jongsma.]

magnifying glass hovering over the word truthFact Checking Websites

Fact-checking sites are useful tools for helping users distinguish between the truth and rumors. Like all websites, fact-checking sites may have biases towards a certain group or issue. Take time to evaluate who is running the site, how the site is funded, and what type of information is being provided when using these types of sites.

Video Tutorials on Evaluating Sources

Video Tutorials on Reading Strategies

Reading & Interpreting Sources

ReadingAfter you have decided that a source is potentially useful, read it carefully and critically, asking yourself the following questions about how this research fits your writing project:

  • How relevant is this material to your research question?
  • Does the source include counterarguments that you should address?
  • How persuasive is the evidence? Does it represent opposing viewpoints fairly? Will the source be convincing to your audience?
  • Will you need to change your thesis to account for this information?
  • What quotations or paraphrases from this source might you want to use?

Adapted from Easy Writer (4th ed.)