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Evaluating Sources

Why Evaluate?

When you search the web, do you treat all websites you find equally? Or do you sense that some sites provide better information than others?

For example, if you were trying to find information on the fuel economy of hybrid cars, would you feel more comfortable with the consumption rates stated by the Nissan Website, or from a government-produced fuel consumption guide from Natural Resources Canada

The sources of information you consult can affect the choices you make.

In your personal life, as well as in your academic life, you need to know how to evaluate the trustworthiness of the information that you find, and in particular, when you’re researching a topic for academic or professional purposes, you must seek out the highest quality information.

Consider your future employer asking you to research a topic and provide a report to them. The information contained in that report may be used for a number of high-stakes decisions:

  • the content of a speech the Director will give
  • the position the firm takes on a topic
  • the financial advice given to a client
  • how a patient will be cared for
  • how a tool will be manufactured
  • how a building will be constructed

It's clear you'll need to ensure the information you have sourced is of a high quality, is accurate and reliable.

The real question is how can you determine the information you've found is credible?

How to Evaluate a Source

Discover things to look for when deciding on the reliability of a source.

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There are a number of criteria that can be use to evaluate the quality and credibility of a source of information. One popular method for remembering the various characteristics to look for is the CARS evaluation system.

Credibility Look for believable, well written information that is free of bias. Locate information about the author(s) and their credentials. How credible are the authors, what is their level of expertise on this particular topic?

Accuracy The information should be up-to-date and clear. You can confirm accuracy by locating information from a variety of sources. Look for a last updated date.

Relevance The information should contribute to your knowledge on the topic you are researching. It should support your thesis/research question or offer a substantial counter point. It should be written at a level appropriate for inclusion in your research. If a source is too academic it may use unknown terminology and discuss topics that are too advanced for your level of study. If a source is too popular or too basic, it may not be academic or professional enough to be of value for your purposes.

Support Other sources should support the information found. Always look for a reference list, bibliography or citations demonstrating where the information came from.

Review the Cars Evaluation Tool document to learn about the CARS criteria and see the checklist you can use for evaluating sources.