Skip to main content

Fake News or Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources: Evaluating Information

Criteria for Evaluating News Stories

As a media literate person, you need to use your detective skills and gather the facts to evaluate news stories.

Criteria includes: Purpose, currency, authority,  and accuracy  .

Evaluating Information

Watch for Suspicious Clues!

 Scan your online resources for easy-to-spot clues. These can help you determine whether a website is credible enough to use in a research paper.

  • Website does not look professionally designed
  • The page's purpose is to sell something (almost all .com)
  • There is a lot of advertising on the page
  • The publisher is promoting a specific point of view

 

Purpose of the Information

Purpose of the Information

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
 

Currency of the information

Currency of the Information

  • Can you tell when the web page was originally created? When it was last updated?
  • Is this a topic on which it's important that you have up-to-date information (science, medicine, news, etc.) or one where it is not as important that information be recent (history, literature, etc.)?

Where to Look:

  • Look near the top and the bottom of the web page to see if any publication date, copyright date or "date last modified" is indicated.
  • Look for other indications that the page is kept current. Is there a "What's New" section?
  • In a book look on the back of the title page. Has the information been revised or updated? For a periodical  look on the cover.
  • If statistical data or charts are included, be especially careful to notice what dates are represented there and when the data was collected or published.

Authority of the Information

Authority of the Information

  • What qualifications does this person or organization have to discuss this topic?
  • Does the author have a university degree in the discipline? Or is s/he an amateur, hobbyist, or merely someone with an opinion to air?
  • If an organization is responsible for the pages, is the organization widely recognized as a source of scholarly and reliable information? (For example, the American Cancer Society for information on cancer-related topics.)
  • What other information can you find about the author or organization responsible for the content of this web page?

Where to Look:

  • On a web page, look near the top and the bottom of the page.
  • Is there a link to more information about the person or organization?
  • For organizations, there's often a link called "About Us" or something similar that leads to a page explaining the organization's mission, when and how it was founded, and so forth. Read it for clues.
  • For a single person/author, there might be information about the person's educational background or his/her research or other qualifications for writing on this topic. There might be a link to his/her faculty or professional web pages.
  • Look for links to other articles and publications by the person or organization.
  • Look for an address or a phone number by which you could contact the author(s) if you wanted to.
  • If you can't find any information about the author(s) on the page you're looking at, try deleting the last part of the URL for that page in your web browser's address bar. Keep going until you come to a page that has more information about the person or organization responsible for the pages.
  • Remember that a URL that has a ~ (tilde) in it is almost always someone's personal home page, as opposed to an organization's official page.
  • If you can't find any information about the author(s) anywhere on their web pages, try searching for the person or organization's name using an Internet search engine to see if you can find web pages about them elsewhere.
  • For print material, check the book jacket for a biographical sketch of the author and check book review sources.
  • If you can find no information at all about the author(s), be very wary. If you can't verify that the information is authoritative, don't use it in a class paper or project.

Accuracy of the information

Accuracy of the Information

  • Where did this information come from? 
  • Is the information supported by evidence? 
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Where to Look:

  • On a web page, look near the top of the page.
  • Check the title, the section headings, and the opening paragraphs to see if some person or organization is named as the person(s) responsible for the content of the web pages. Also look near the bottom of the page for this information. (Keep in mind that the webmaster or person who designed the web page is not necessarily the one responsible for the content of the page.)
  • You can sometimes learn something about the source of a web page by examining the page's URL.  The domain name portion of the URL often indicates what type of organization and what country a web page comes from.
  • If you can't find any information about the author(s) on the page you're looking at, try deleting the last part of the URL for that page in your web browser's location box. Delete from the very end of the URL backwards to the first slash mark ("/"), then press the RETURN or ENTER key on your keyboard. If you still don't see any information about the author(s), back up one more directory or slash mark. Keep going until you come to a page that identifies the author(s) of these pages.
  • To find out where the author(s) of books, reference books, or magazines got their information, look at the book jacket blurb and look within your source for a list of references, works cited, or bibliography and footnotes.

Contact Us

 

Reference Desk
(650) 949-7608

Circulation & Reserve
(650) 949-7611

Facebook  Twitter