Start by asking: what’s my information “neighborhood”? Am I looking for scholarly sources, opinions, personal information… or something else? The following criteria are the sorts of things to consider when you are evaluating information for a school research project.
- What are the author’s credentials? Know when credentials matter.
- Is the source known and respected? Is there any way to contact the source?
- Are there “back door” ways of determining authority, like reviewer ratings? Can you trust these?
- Does a high ranking on search engine results mean a source is authoritative?
- Can the information be corroborated? In other words, can you confirm the information in another source?
- Does the information need to be current?
- Is the information documented, either directly or indirectly?
- Is the information presented with integrity? (i.e., no copyright violations, fabrications, and other misuses of intellectual property).
Be able to spot point of view
- Is the site fair and objective?
- Is it an advocacy site? Advocacy sites promote the interests of an organization, a cause, or a point-of-view, and are biased by definition.
- Is there a conflict of interest? Does the website producer stand to benefit from the information being provided?
How important is balance? Is it required for your purposes?
- Do hobbyists’ sites, “fun” sites, and advocacy sites need to be unbiased?
- Is bias necessarily a bad thing?
Sample Persuasion Techniques
- Calling on a higher authority (e.g., religion, government, celebrity, the medical profession, etc.) to justify a position
- Using the “plain folks” technique (“We are just like everyone else”) to elicit sympathy and understanding
- Employing pseudoscience – using scientific–sounding references or data to justify a position, make an argument, or sell a product.
- “Co-opting” symbols and traditions to use in other contexts
- “Cloaking” identity — acting like something you are not. Know how to conduct a domain name search.
Test yourself! What persuasion techniques are being used on this site?