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Evaluating Information Sources: Objectivity

Tips for evaluating print and online information sources.

Objectivity

Objectivity of the Author(s)

Questions to Ask:

  • Does the author or the organization s/he represents have an obvious bias concerning the topic?
  • Does the author or the organization represent a particular point of view? (The Catholic Church, the National Organization for Women, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Republican or Democratic Party, etc.) If you don't know the answer to this question, be sure to read the "About Us" page.
  • Do they present facts and arguments for both sides of a controversial issue or only their own point of view?
  • Does the page include advertising? If so, can you tell clearly which parts are advertisement and which parts are informational content? Does the page remind you of a television "infomercial," i.e. it looks like an informational article but is actually an advertisement?

Where to Look:

  • Does the page use inflammatory language, images, or graphic styles (for example, huge red letters or lots of boldface type) to try to persuade you of the author's point of view?
  • Examine the URL to see where the web page comes from. Is it a commercial site (.com)? A non-profit organization (.org)? An educational institution (.edu)?
  • Think again about the person or organization's mission or charge as you read about it on the "About Us" page.
  • Try some of the same approaches you used to determine the authority of the information source, for example look for the name of the author(s) using one of the internet search engines to see if you can find other information about them. Use the library databases to search for articles about the person or organization. Is the organization an advocacy group, i.e. they advocate for a particular cause or point of view?
  • For books and reference books examine the preface or introduction for hints about the author's purpose and point of view.

Wikipedia

Should you use Wikipedia?
Hear what Stephen Colbert has to say.