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Composition II Research Guide for ENGL 102: Evaluating Sources

Vetted vs. Unvetted Sources

All sources need to be evaluated, but how you evaluate them will differ by type of source and how well they have been vetted.

Academic Sources (journal articles, books from academic publishers, research reports) are the most vetted. Here you need to determine how relevant the source is for your research and how authoritative the author(s) may be. Are they experts in the subject they are writing on?

Journalism relies on editorial control and meeting certain standards, though the application of those standards about the credibility of sources, though the application of those standards varies widely. Bias and accuracy of reporting are major things to look out for.

Commercial and private web sites tend not to be vetted by anyone. For these you need to do the vetting yourself. Using the STAAR method or fact-checking, or a combination, can aid in determining the credibility of a web site or web page.

STAAR Method

The STAAR method is a checklist method created by Upstate librarian Laura Karas. With this method you look at attributes of a web source to determine overall credibility and usefulness. The attributes are:

Slant - bias or viewpoint

Topical & Timely - currency of information

Accuracy - reliability and correctness of information

Authority - expertise of author or source of cited information

Relevancy - pertinence to topic

See the STAAR Method page on the Website Evaluation guide for more information.


Fact Checking

Fact checking looks beyond the web site or page to better evaluate its context. Professional fact checkers use a variety of trusted sites and sources to test information they find on unfamiliar sites.

Three core questions for fact checking:

  • Who is behind this information?
  • What is the evidence?
  • What do other sources say?

Michael A. Caulfield wrote Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers in which he introduces the SIFT method. This is based on four steps:

  • Check for previous work - has somebody already fact-checked this information?
  • Go upstream of the source - try and find the original source of information.
  • Read laterally - once you get to the original source, read what others say about it.
  • Circle back - if you get lost or hit dead ends, go back and begin again with what you now know.

Websites for Fact Checking

These are some of the more popular fact-checking sites. For a more comprehensive list, see Chapter 5 of Michal Caulfield's book.