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Getting Started with Research @ Reed Library: Evaluating Sources

Evaluation Strategies


How to Spot Fake News (Infographic)

  • Consider the Source: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • Read Beyond: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
  • Check the Author: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  • Supporting Sources?: Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • Check the Date: Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
  • Is it a Joke?: If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • Check your Biases: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • Ask the Experts: Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.

A domain suffix is the end portion of a domain name. This is often referred to as a "top level domain" or TLD. Each domain suffix defines the type of website represented by the domain name. This should be one of the first points of evaluation as you are looking at websites.

Some common domain suffixes are described in the chart below but there are numerous other domain suffixes out there. An organization, ICANN, coordinates the Internet's naming system, including domain suffixes. 

This tab highlights some of the most used website domains. For additional information, visit Worldstandard's list of domain suffixes.

.com = Commercial Site. The information provided by commercial interests is generally going to shed a positive light on the product it promotes. While this information might not necessarily be false, you might be getting only part of the picture. Remember, there's a monetary incentive behind every commercial site in providing you with information, whether it is for good public relations or to sell you a product outright.

.edu = Educational Institution. Sites using this domain name are schools ranging from kindergarten to higher education. If you take a look at your school's URL you'll notice that it ends with the domain .edu. Information from sites within this domain must be examined very carefully. If it is from a department or research center at an educational institution, it can generally be taken as credible. However, students' personal Web sites are not usually monitored by the school even though they are on the school's server and use the .edu domain.

.gov = Government. If you come across a site with this domain, then you're viewing a federal government site. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. Information such as Census statistics, Congressional hearings, and Supreme Court rulings would be included in sites with this domain. The information is considered to be from a credible source.

.org = Traditionally a non-profit organization. Organizations such as the American Red Cross or PBS (Public Broadcasting System) use this domain suffix. Generally, the information in these types of sites is credible and unbiased, but there are examples of organizations that strongly advocate specific points of view over others, such as the National Right to Life Committee and Planned Parenthood. You want to give this domain scrutiny. Some commercial interests might be the ultimate sponsors of a site with this suffix.

.net = Network. You might find any kind of site under this domain suffix. It acts as a catch-all for sites that don't fit into any of the preceding domain suffixes. Information from these sites should be given careful scrutiny.

Source: University of South Carolina

SIFT Infographic

  • Stop: Do you know the website or source of information? Start with a plan. Check your bearings and consider what you want to know and your purpose. Usually, a quick check is enough. Sometimes you'll want a deep investigation, to verify all claims made and check all the sources.
  • Investigate the Source: Know the expertise and agenda of your source so you can interpret it. Look up your source in Wikipedia. Consider what other sites say about your source. A fact checking site may help. Read carefully and consider while you click. Open multiple tabs.
  • Find Trusted Coverage: Find trusted reporting or analysis, look for the best information on a topic or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something more in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Look beyond the first few results, use Ctl + F, and consider the URL. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you investigate further.
  • Trace to the Original: Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the source, What was clipped out of a story/photo/video and what happened before or after? When you read the research paper mentioned in a news story, was it accurately reported? Find the original source to see the context, so you can decide if the version you have is accurately presented.

CRAAP Test Infographic

  • Is it Current?
    • Was it written recently enough to be accurate?
    • Has it been revised or updated?
    • Do the links work?
  • Is it Relevant?
    • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Have you checked other sources to make sure yours is the most relevant to your topic?
  • Is it Authoritative?
    • Who wrote, published, or publicized it?
    • What makes the author an expert?
    • Are they backed by an institution (such as a university or institute)? If not, are they a primary source?
  • Is it Accurate?
    • Is there supporting evidence?
    • Has the information been reviewed by experts or factcheckers?
    • Are there spelling or other errors?
    • What are other experts saying about it?
  • What's the Purpose?
    • Why was the information created? Is it to promote something? Sell ads? Drive votes?
    • Is the purpose clear?
    • What biases can you find? What are others saying about the author or source?
    • What is your purpose and bias?

Evaluation Tools & Resources

Additional Reading

Expert Internet Searching
How to Find Information

Fact Checking Sites

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