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Finding Content: What Makes a Source Credible?
As a young researcher, traversing your way through the early stages of the research process can be a tiresome and grueling task. Picking sources is no exception and can be particularly time-consuming and nerve-wracking as sources you choose can dictate the entire direction and theme of your research. Whether it is highlighting and selecting sources to build a foundation on your research topic or checking out statistics and figures to help you with your hypothesis, the task of sorting out the near limitless amounts of information can be exhausting when you #StartYourResearch. But fear not, we’re here to help!
Below are some tips that can help you check to see if a source is credible in the littlest amount of time:
1. Check the Location of the Publication
In the Age of the Internet, the deluge of information can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Access to information from all across the globe is readily available at your fingertips, but with so many links and “sources” to click on, the opportunity for misinformation grows greater. The first thing you should do when testing the credibility of your source is to check to see where the publication is published. Is it a PDF from a journal or book? Or is it online on a random website?
The best sources are those that are peer reviewed – where experts from the field of study review the publication in order to validate and certify the research stands up to scrutiny. Essentially, peer-reviewed sources receive a professional or academic “seal of approval” through a process of screening article and book submissions using standards of their discipline to achieve scientific objectivity. Here opinions are replaced with community consensus and fact.
The best way in which to find a peer review article is to search through a database that allows you to filter out all articles that are not peer reviewed. Another way to check if a source is peer reviewed is to physically look at the masthead of the publication to see publication information such as the editors of the publication, publisher, etc…
2. Check the Author of the Publication
The author of the specific publication you are looking at is a clear indicator of the credibility of the source. Is the author considered an expert in the field? Read through the biographic section of the publication to get a better sense of the author and whether or not he/she has a credible voice in the field of study.
Check the author’s affiliations and past works. Does the author push a particular agenda? Is the author affiliated with private institutions or research universities? You want to find sources that are objective in order to minimize selection bias. This can be verified initially at a number of places online, including Wikipedia (although be sure to check citations), Twitter, LinkedIn and on University or College websites. You can also do a cursory Google search to see if that author has a website and online presence.
3. Look for Up-To-Date Sources
Sources that are the most current are most critical for your readers. Your audience wants to make sure that you are building upon the most updated information and therefore your sources should include as many current sources as possible. Check the publication date of the article. If it is within the past year and a half or so, you’re most likely golden.
Although these tips will help you cut some time off of sorting through various sources and figuring out if they are credible or not, remember to check your sources thoroughly. Cutting corners on checking sources would allow you to publish misinformation and have your publication discredited.
Did these tips help? Still have questions or want to share your tips and ideas with other researchers? Use hashtag #StartYourResearch on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion and engage with our community!
For more tips and advice on evaluating the credibility of your sources, check out this overview from Columbia College.