Evaluate the Credibility & Quality of Information Sources
It is up to you to decide if information is credible and reliable to use in your research and to share with others.
When it comes to evaluating the wide range of information out there, especially information that is found online, use the following three questions to guide your investigation. Stanford History Education Group calls this Civic Online Reasoning, essential skills (like what fact-checkers do) to judge the credibility of information about social and political issues.
Civic Online Reasoning: When you come across information online, ask yourself:
BE AWARE: Not everything published in a scholarly journal is a Peer Reviewed Article! When limiting to "peer-reviewed" the databases are going by the type of journal, and not distinguishing the variety of content in the journal, which typically also contains editorials and book reviews, which are not peer-reviewed.
The peer-review and publication process often takes well over one year, so it might be hard to find a peer-reviewed article for a currently emerging topic.
If you are still unsure if it is a peer-reviewed journal, Google the journal's homepage.
Scholarly articles are written by scholars for an audience of other scholars. They thus assume prior knowledge of the subject, which you likely do not have. Scholarly articles are also written with a language and tone that is, shall we say, the opposite of reading for enjoyment. But it's going to be okay! There are time-saving strategies to read and comprehend scholarly material. For example, you don't initially read a scholarly article or book from beginning to end; instead, you read certain sections first to understand the main arguments and results. Watch the video below to learn more.
It's also important to think about how you will use the source in your paper, project, or performance.
Joseph Bizup developed a model called the BEAM model that helps us think about the usefulness of a source in the research and writing process.
"Writers rely on background sources, interpret or analyze exhibits, engage arguments, and follow methods." (Bizup 2008)
THE BEAM MODEL
BACKGROUND: Using a source to provide general information to explain the topic.
Example: The use of a CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints article on the California drought to explain the severity of California's drought and recent legislation passed to manage water resources.
EXHIBIT: Using a source as evidence or examples to analyze.
Examples: For a literature topic, the short story you are analyzing. For a history topic, newspapers from the period of study. For an art history topic, a painting or photograph you are analyzing. For a political science paper, data from polls or surveys. For a science topic, an experimental study.
ARGUMENT: Using a source to engage its argument. Most will be scholarly sources written by researchers and scholars. These are the sources you engage in conversation.
Example: An analysis of recent water usage data and ramifications for California's drought. It is an argument about the exhibit.
METHOD: Using a source's way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue, whether it's to borrow an approach, concept, idea, or method.
Examples: References to critical theories or theorists (e.g., post-colonialism or Edward Said), or research methodologies (e.g., Mixed Methods Research Design).
Citation: Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 February 2014.
This handout will help you understand the meaning of "primary sources" in different subjects. According to the BEAM model, when you are asked to find a primary source you are thinking about how to use a source as an Exhibit (evidence or example to interpret or analyze).