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Question the Credibility of Your Sources: Question the Credibility of Your Sources

Question the Credibility

Determining if a source is credible is a critical element of writing a well-informed paper.  This LibGuide uses 6 key question words to help you identify the credibility of sources.  Who, What, Where, When, Why & How (aka the 5 Ws and one H of good journalism) can also be used to help you question a source's trustworthiness and integrity.  Each tab below will take one of the key question words and show you how it can help you to investigate a source to find critical information about it and it's appropriateness. 

Question Words

Credibility is defined as "the quality or power of inspiring belief".  Credible sources, therefore, must be reliable sources that provide information that everyone can believe to be true.  Think of it this way: If you were feeling sick would you ask a stranger on the street what may be wrong with you? Would you Google your symptoms? OR would you go to your Doctor? Of those 3 “sources” of information, the Doctor would be the most credible.  His knowledge comes from his education, training and experience.  There is a difference between personal opinion, general web sources, and scholarly journal articles.  When you are writing an academic research paper it is important to use credible sources.  Your audience is going to expect you to use the best, most accurate, recent, and reliable information possible to back up your thesis so that they can trust in your expertise. Using evidence that does not come from a credible source will not convince your reader that your claim is plausible or even correct.

Question Who?

WHO created the source?
     Is there contact information?
     Is it corporate, academic, satire?

WHO is the author?
     What are their professional credentials; are they listed/linked?
 Are they an expert, scholar (do they have a relevant degree) or a student?
     Is the creator affiliated with an organization, corporation, government agency, university etc.?
     Is there subjectivity? Will it affect my research? 

     Is there
a biography, or other author information?
     What else has the author written?
     Is this the author's typical audience?

WHO is the publisher or sponsor?
     Is there any organizational information available?
     Is there bias?
     What is the reputation of the publisher or sponsor?
     Does the publisher edit/review works prior to publication?

WHO is the audience?
     What is the reason for the information?
     Is there bias in the audience?
     Is it like-minded people, hard sell?

Question Why?

WHY was the research done?
     was it informational, to convince, to sell, to entertain?
     Is there advertising or proof of funding?
     Is there a hidden agenda?

WHY have you chosen this source?
     Is this the BEST source or the ONLY source?

Question When?

WHEN was the research done?
     When was the information gathered/created? Is the material up-to-date?
     Is the topic current?
     Is the research current?  How old are the works cited?
     Are the links broken, go to dead pages/resources?
     Has significant research been done since the topic first was researched?

WHEN was it updated?
     Have the facts changed?
     Are there dates or notes to show current updates?


Question Where?

WHERE is the author employed/affiliated?
     Is there credibility in associations?
     Is there bias in affiliations?

WHERE was this published?
     What importance is there?  University Press, tabloid, etc?

WHERE does the information come from?
Are references/citations provided?
     Are the original sources of information listed?
     Can you verify any of the information in independent sources or from your own knowledge?

Question How?

HOW was the research done?
     Was it a scientific study?
     Was the methodology discussed?
     Empirical or Anecdotal?
     Qualitative or Quantitative?

HOW well was it written/edited?
     Were there spelling, grammar or typos?
     Was it peer-reviewed?
     How trustworthy is the source it appeared in?

HOW were other points of view handled?
     Were they addressed and refuted? or ignored?

HOW does it fit within your topic?
     Does it answer the questions regarding your topic?
     Does it seem to be in left field?

Question What?

WHAT are the conclusions?
     Are they clearly stated?
     Does it contribute to the field?
     How do they compare to other resources on the same topic?

WHAT context is the information presented?
     What format: web, magazine, journal?
     What does the domain name/URL reveal about the source of the information 
(e.g. .com .edu .gov .org .net)?

WHAT are the facts?  What does the evidence support?
     Are there sources, links, citations etc.?
     Is the information complete - what is missing?  are there inexplicable omissions?
     What is NOT said?
     Is there bias?

Critical Evaluation

Critical Evaluation of each work should consider, Provenance, Methodology, objectivity, persuasiveness