In yesterday's post, I mentioned the importance of getting facts from credible sources. In today's climate of "alternative facts" and "fake news," this practice is more important than ever.
I think it's safe to say that in most cases, when we authors need to know something, we look it up online. So how do we determine whether a web source is credible? These factors can help us decide:
The source writer's credentials * Good signs: The author has a degree, extensive experience, or specialized training in the subject they're discussing. They cite credible sources to back up their arguments. * Bad signs: The source doesn't include any citations, an "about the author" section, or other evidence that the writer knows what they're talking about.
The sponsor of the website where you found the source * Good signs: The site is run by a government, educational, or professional organization. There's a vetting process for content contributors (e.g., they have to belong to the organization). The sponsor typically stays neutral in political matters and has a history of professionalism. * Problematic signs: The site is run by a private individual. The sponsor (whether an individual or a group) has strong political leanings. These aren't automatic disqualifiers, but they're clues that you should evaluate information from these sources with extra care. * Bad signs: The sponsor has a history of spreading misleading or outright false information. Anyone can post or edit content on the site (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*).
The website's design * Good signs: The site has a clean, professional look and feel to it. * Bad signs: The site has wild, distracting, or hard-to-read animations, images, backgrounds, fonts, etc.
The writing itself * Good signs: The source uses correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. Its facts and arguments make sense. It uses neutral language and tone and doesn't rely on emotional appeals to make its case. If applicable, it acknowledges opposing ideas and their valid points and presents evidence for why the author's argument is a better choice. * Bad signs: The source makes extreme claims without offering sufficient (or any) supporting evidence. It presents as fact statements that you know are false. It relies on emotionally loaded words and arguments. If applicable, it trash-talks opposing ideas and ignores any valid points they might have.
Of course, we're all human and make mistakes. But by using these guidelines, you'll have a much better chance of avoiding poor sources and identifying credible ones for your research.
Did I miss any criteria? In the comments, tell me about any other guidelines you use to evaluate a source's credibility.
(Thanks to Sergiu Vălenaș for sharing their work on Unsplash.)