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Writing Workshop: MSP 3196

Research help for MSP 3196: Writing Workshop.

Evaluating Sources

Tilted scales

There is no simple formula for evaluating sources; evaluation always depends on the facts of your own rhetorical situation.

Here is a basic framework you can use to evaluate your rhetorical situation and analyze how well your sources support it.

Is the source useful to you?

  • Does it provide the kind of information you need?
  • Does it meet your assignment requirements?
  • Does it make you think? Did it spark further questions or suggest additional lines of inquiry?
  • Does it help you contextualize or understand other sources?

Is this the type of source your audience expects you to use?

  • Is it at the right level — not too difficult nor too easy for your audience?
  • Will it give you more credibility with your audience if you use it?
  • If you are not sure about what your audience expects, how can you find out?

Who created the source?

  • Is the author identified AND if they are, are they someone you find credible?
  • If the author is not identified, is there a group or institution responsible for the source? Do you find that group credible?
  • Have you done whatever additional research you need to do to decide if the author is credible or useful?

What is the author’s (or institution’s or agency’s) purpose in creating this source?

  • Are they trying to persuade you to do or think something specific?
  • Are they selling something?
  • Does their purpose or agenda affect the quality of their evidence? Did it affect how they presented it?
  • Do they articulate their agenda themselves?
  • Does what they say about their agenda match what others say?

(If the source is a scholarly one) is it a good example of research in the discipline?

NOTE: For many of these questions, you may need help figuring out the answers. Do you know enough about research in this discipline to answer this question? Asking professors in the field, or librarians who work with this literature, may help.

  • Do they use citations, footnotes, etc. to connect their work to the rest of the field?
  • Is the source referenced (used and cited) by other scholars you’ve found?
  • Is it current enough to meet your needs?
  • Was it published in a journal or other source important in the field? How do you know?

This framework is adapted from one created by Oregon State University librarian Anne-Marie Deitering in The Academic Writer, by Lisa Ede

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 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.

Videos on Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Assessing Expertise

Lateral Reading

Videos on Reading Strategies

E-reading Strategies

Understanding Academese

Reading & Interpreting Sources

Icon of individual 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 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.)