Friday, January 31, 2014

5 questions to ask before using information as an academic resource

The following is a guest post from Bart Everts, one of our Reference Librarians at Peirce College.

Say you’ve been assigned a research paper that requires you to use five accurate and reliable resources to back up your argument. If you’re like most of us, you’ll begin to look for those resources by entering a few search terms into Google. But how do you know if the information you find is reliable?

The ability to examine information and select sources that are reliable is called information literacy. To succeed in college and business, the ability to find, evaluate, and integrate accurate information is vital. With the amount of information available, it can be difficult to tell what is reliable and what is not. To ensure that the information you’re using comes from reliable sources, we recommend asking the following questions to help you navigate through the clutter and find the best resources.
  • Is the information current? Depending on the class, you might need an article written in the past year, or it might be OK to use materials published within the past decade. Information changes as new research is conducted and more facts are known. Ensure the resource you want to use meets the requirements your professor is looking for.
  • What are the writer’s qualifications? For college-level work, you want to know the writer has done their research. Most articles will include brief biographical information about the author, so read it over and verify that their expertise is in the correct field. When in doubt, your professor or a librarian would be happy to weigh in.
  • Is the information accurate? The best way to check for accuracy is to see if you can corroborate your resource with other resources. On the free web, if only one source is reporting information, it should alert your inner skeptic.
  • Is the information biased? Plenty of web pages contain factual information filtered through opinion or agenda. These days, even major news organizations (particularly cable sources) might report stories in a way that encourages taking a side. Be on the lookout for opinion passing as fact. Bias may also take the form of sponsored information or press releases.
  • Is the information useful? Finally, you need to make sure the information is useful for your assignment. An article might be interesting or touch on your topic, but how will it aid your paper’s thesis? If the information does not contribute in a meaningful way to your argument, you should not include it.
The Peirce College Library is here to help you find and evaluate quality resources. Feel free to stop by the reference desk on the 7th floor of College Hall or call us at 215.670.9269 with any questions.