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Evaluating Information

Evaluating Information for Credibility

How can you evaluate the credibility of the information you view?  In today's world of information overload, "fake news," and propaganda, it is important to critically evaluate the information used in our lives for living, learning, and decision making. Be aware of the difference between facts and opinions. Also, be critical of the authority, accuracy, point-of-view, timeliness, audience and purpose of the information being considered.

Ask yourself the questions under each tab to begin your critical evaluation of the information you use.

Fact or Opinion?

What Is a Fact? A fact is a statement proved true or false by objective and empirical means.

  • Facts tell what is happening
  • Facts tell what has happened
  • Facts state something that is based on observation, verification, and evidence.

User generated content exists side-by-side with main stream news. Americans Adults vary in ability to classify factual news from opinion according to a recent survey by Pew. (Pew, Facts & Opinions, 2018). Take this Pew Research quiz to rate your ability to distinguish fact from opinion. 

What is an OpinionA statement that expresses beliefs, values, feelings, thoughts, or conjectures.

  • Opinions express worth or value
  • Opinions express what should or should not be done
  • Opinions express predictions or assertions for the future

User generated content exists side-by-side with main stream news. Americans Adults vary in ability to classify factual news from opinion according to a recent survey by Pew. (Pew, Facts & Opinions, 2018). Take this Pew Research quiz to rate your ability to distinguish fact from opinion. 

Criteria for Evaluating Information

  • Who is the author or responsible organization?
    • Are they authorities or professionals in the field?
    • What are their educational credentials?
    • What else have they written?
    • Can you contact the author/organization?
  • Who sponsors or publishes the publication or site?
    • What is their purpose or mission?
    • Are they an academic/professional or popular publication/site?
  • What is/are the source/sources of the information you are consulting? 
    • Primary, secondary, tertiary?
    • Facts or opinion or assertion or a combination?
    • (Data, evidence, experience, artifact, article, report, conversation, opinion, assertion?)
    • Verified? 


  • Who is providing the information? 
    • individual, organization, professional society, researchers, corporation
    • Independent or sponsored?
    • Can the individual or organization gain or lose from how the information is presented and received?
      • Power, money, influence, sales, status?
  • Why are they providing the information?
    • Informative, opinion, advertising, disinformation, propaganda?
  • Where does the information come from? 
    • Evidence, experience, hearsay, 
    • Verified?


  • Does the resource provide facts, assertions, or opinions or a combination?
    • Does the source use exaggerated, emotional language, or clear, logical language?
    • Do the claims and arguments seem clear and logical?
  • Is the content accurate and verifiable?
    • Does the source provide the data or evidence?
      • Is the data or evidence verifiable?
        • Use Triangulation--3 or more independent sources that say the same thing 
      • Is the data or evidence represented accurately
        • Can the information be corroborated using triangulation?
        • Misinformation: Accidental inaccurate information
        • Disinformation: Deliberate inaccurate information
    • Are there footnotes or references to the information used?
      • Do these references confirm the content and hold up to critical evaluation
  • How does the information relate to the established body of literature in the field/discipline?
  • Is the source edited or peer-reviewed?
  • Based on what you know about the subject, does this source seem credible?
  • What is the point-of-view or bias of the writer(s)?
    • Bias: "an inclination of temperament or outlook: especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment". (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
    • Is the source advocating a point-of-view or presenting a balanced perspective?
  • Does the author use emotionally charged words or neutral language?
  • Does the author over simplify the topic or provide sufficient details for their perspective?
  • Does the content show logical, reasoned argument or strong emotional binary argument?
  • Does the source represent an organization's perspective or an individual's?
  • Who is providing access to the source?
    • What is the domain type for the site (e.g., .com .edu .gov .net .org .mil)?
    • What is their perspective?
    • What is their monetary, power, or ideological stake?
  • When was the information created? last updated?
  • Is the information current or historical in nature?
  • Does the time period cover your needs?
  • Who is the target audience for the information? (consumers, students, colleagues?)
  • Does the writer seem to assume that her/his readers will already know something about this topic, or does he/she focus on the basics?
  • Is the information contained in the resource comprehensive or selective? How deep is the information?
  • What is the primary purpose of this information?
    • Educational, commercial, personal, advocacy, news, propaganda
      • Propaganda: "The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political cause or point of view". (Oxford English Dictionary)
  • Does the information reflect primary or secondary sources?

Evaluating News

Evaluating news sources is particularly important in the wake of the realization that "fake news" has been influencing the public more than previously suspected. As we make our way through this "post-truth" era, we need to be especially aware of where we're getting our news and how it's affecting us.

  • Some fake news is obvious; for example, the tabloids you see on racks while waiting to check out at the grocery store
  • Some fake news is not obvious, and that is usually because it plays on preconceived notions held by its audience.
  • Fake news sites usually try to look as legitimate as possible, even going so far as to buy internet domains, list fake addresses, and connect themselves to cities or legitimate businesses/organizations, for example the Denver Guardian or the Baltimore Gazette (both exposed as fake news sites)
  • To determine for yourself whether news is legitimate, remember to look at the criteria in the box above: authority, accuracy, bias/point-of-view, timeliness, audience, and purpose; pay particular attention to bias, as fake or misleading news often comes from very one-sided individuals or organizations
  • Not sure if what you're looking at is legitimate? Google it! Often when something is determined to be fake or misleading that information is put online as soon as possible

In today's world, "news" isn't just newspaper articles or television. It's Facebook, Twitter, Google News, LinkedIn, and all other social media. Apply the same principles above to social media and be especially wary of pictures that can be misleading or may have been edited.

Evaluating Sources For Credibility

Information Types

Primary sources differ between disciplines.  In general, they are the original information, data, words, thoughts, images, laws, or conversations of individuals or collaborative groups.

In the sciences primary sources contain the original, first hand data or primary information "found" and "analyzed" by the researcher(s)/scholar(s);  primary information comes from experiments, observations, interviews, and artifacts, often recorded as data. The findings and analysis of the data are often recorded by the original researchers in scholarly journals, conference reports, technical reports, dissertations, lab notebooks, and patents.

In literature, primary sources are considered the original works of literature. These sources can include novels, poetry, newspaper articles, blogs, tweets, websites, films, songs, television shows.  Commentary on and analysis of these works are considered secondary sources.

In history primary sources are the artifacts of the time period being investigated. This can consist of personal diaries, personal/corporate papers, laws & treaties of the time, newspaper accounts from the time period, court records of the time, images (art or photography), buildings, material culture (desks, clothes, tools, clocks, etc.) 


In general, secondary sources analyze, synthesize, interpret and evaluate primary sources. The secondary sources are generally written by someone studying primary sources.

In the sciences secondary sources are most commonly articles and books by scholars, which comment on and further analyze the findings discussed in the primary literature. 

In literature, secondary sources analyze and discuss the primary sources, such as a critical examination of the original text. This sort of source also often brings in other secondary sources, sometimes from different disciplines. Examples of a secondary source in literature could be a critical reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the context of third-wave feminism, or a comparison of Tim O'Brien's  The Things They Carried and Homer's Iliad.

In history, secondary sources analyze, synthesize, and interpret primary sources. History secondary sources often examine primary sources as well as the historical context of the person, place, or thing they are studying.

Tertiary sources can be textbooks, handbooks, encyclopedias, or indexes that summarize or organize the existing knowledge on a topic in a discipline using secondary sources.  

Writing Types

  • Articles and books that summarize complex topics for a general audience
  • Articles & books that summarize scholarly research for a general audience
    • Critically consider accuracy of summary
  • Authors are often strong writers, reporters, or journalists, but not experts in the field
    • experts and academics can also write popular articles and books for a general audience
  • Editorial review varies
  • Content does not cite to a list of references in most instances but briefly mentions sources in the text itself
  • Language is often easier to read
  • Often contains an abundance of colorful images
  • Advertising accompanies popular magazine or articles/blogs on the web 

Examples: TIME, Teen Vogue, WIRED

  • Articles and books that are written to summarize or analyze current topics and trends in a profession or industry
  • Authors of the articles are often individuals experienced in the industry or writers who follow an industry
  • Often written from the industry perspective
  • Content covers topics and trends in more detail and depth than a popular source
  • Language is often more technical and detailed
  • Citations are often provided within the text with no bibliography or a short bibliography
  • Images are less than popular to support the content
  • Advertising is usually industry specific
  • Published or supported by an industry association/group in many cases

Examples: Today's Veterinary Technician, ABA Journal, Progressive Grocer

  • Articles and books written by scholars, researchers, and academics for other scholars, researchers, academics and STUDENTS
  • Articles communicate, detail, and record new knowledge
  • Almost no advertising; any advertisements are usually for academic programs or professional development
  • Any graphic representation of data is usually much more complicated than what you might see in a popular source
  • Data used in graphs or other graphics can all be found within that publication, so you can check accuracy
  • Has undergone the peer-review process: other scholars and experts in the field on the editorial board of the journal have read the article to make sure it is accurate, timely, and important to the discipline
  • Often peer-reviewed journals are very expensive to subscribe to, but there are open-access peer-reviewed journals

Examples: CellAmerican Journal of Epidemiology