Peter Steiner's Famous 1993 New Yorker Cartoon Illustrating an Issue Central to Information Evaluation
Note. From "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" [Cartoon], by P. Steiner, 1993, Wikimedia (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f8/Internet_dog.jpg).
It is good to find lots of search results, but, in order to use information skilfully, you need to know how to evaluate that information to determine whether a specific resource is appropriate to use in a specific use case (i.e. for a specific assignment).
The phrase "evaluating information" actually stands in for a wide range of judgments that we make about information in many different contexts, whether those judgments are about relevance, timeliness, quality, etc.
Librarians have developed several different acronyms to help people remember useful criteria to use in information evaluation. One of my personal favourites is RADAR!
RADAR stands for
Reason for Creation
We can ask the following questions to help us assess each criterion:
Does this source fit my topic?
What is this source's intended audience?
Is that intended audience appropriate for my use case in this assignment?
Is/are the creator(s) of this source clearly identified or known to us?
How important is it in this use case to trust the source's creator(s)?
If it is important, why should we trust the source's creator(s)?
Is the source's creator credentialed or an expert in their field?
Is the creation or publication date of this source identified or known to us?
Is this source too old?
Do this source's facts "check out"?
Does the source have references of its own?
Reason for Creation (take your best guess at this question using judgments from earlier criteria):
Why was this source made?
Was this source made to sell a product or service, to inform/educate, to entertain, etc?
Strengths: short, contains background information on a topic, normally a great starting point when you are just learning about a topic
Weaknesses: too short, print encyclopedias are out of date quickly, Wikipedia has reliability issues
Books and Book Chapters
Strengths: Provides an in-depth investigation into a topic
Weaknesses: too long, sometimes hard to tell whether it is scholarly
Scholarly Journal Articles
Strengths: often based on research findings or extensive review, written by experts, reviewed by experts, provides evidence
Weaknesses: Sometimes written using discipline-specific language or terminology, hard to understand,
Media Sources (news, online magazine articles)
Strengths: Good for current information
Weaknesses: Sometimes biased, sometimes written to entertain, often not written by experts, often not reviewed by experts
Websites & Social Media
Strengths: Highly accessible, includes government info
Weaknesses: It is hard to assess credibility and reliability...anyone can post online or create a website
Lectures, Ted Talks, Interviews, Recordings, Testimony
Strengths: Primary, first-hand accounts
Weaknesses: It is hard to assess credibility and reliability...single perspective relying on the accuracy of memory.
Scholarly articles typically have a few characteristics
They are peer-reviewed. (Peer review is a publication process)
They are published in scholarly peer-reviewed journals.
They are written for an academic audience and use technical language.
In the sciences and social sciences, they often follow a predictable format.
Abstract, introduction/literature review, methods, results, discussion/conclusion
They are generally written by researchers in universities or by professionals in a given field.
They should include references from other academic sources.
How to Check for an Author's Credibility?
Books: Check the foreword/preface/introduction and back cover of the book. These sections usually provide information on the author's credentials/areas of expertise, etc.
Articles: An author of a scholarly (or academic) article will usually include their credentials or affiliations.
Websites: Check to see if there is an author listed on the site. Check to see if there is an "About Me/Us" link.
Books and book chapters