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Evaluating Information

Contents

Guide Overview

Welcome!

In this guide, you will learn about a standard evaluation criteria that will help you quickly and accurately evaluate information.

After completing this guide, you will have practiced using a standard evaluative criteria commonly employed by academic researchers.

What you will learn

After completing this guide, you will be able to:

  • quickly analyze and critically evaluate information
  • identify specific areas to pay close attention to when analyzing a resource
  • build confidence in your ability to successfully evaluate your own research results

Information Overload

Just about anyone can publish just about anything online, and they pretty much do. Take a look at this information graphic.

How much data is created every minute graphic

With so much information being created every minute, it's no wonder that we struggle to assess it all. Let's see if we can make sense of just a few of these.

According to this graphic, how many new websites are created every minute?




 

 

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

How much do you know about Octopi?

  • Could an octopus survive outside of water?
  • Have you ever heard of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus?

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus link

Take a few minutes to read about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

Is the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus real?



 

How did you know (or not)?

Now think about how you came about this decision.

How did you determine whether the Tree Octopus exists or not?




 

The Northwest Tree Octopus website has been fooling visitors since it went live in 1998.

Research study

In 2006, researchers at the University of Connecticut used the website for a research study analyzing the online critical evaluation skills of a group of seventh-graders. Their findings might surprise you.

Are you smarter than a seventh-grader?

UConn Advance

Read about the original University of Connecticut research study.

 

 

 

According to the research team featured in this article, reading comprehension on the internet requires what level of skill when compared to reading a book?




 

Abraham Lincoln and Facebook

Seventh-graders aren't the only ones struggling with making sense of online content.

Did you know Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook?

Abraham Lincoln Filed a Patent for Facebook in 1845

Read about the discovery of a patent he allegedly filed in 1845.

 

What's your final verdict on Lincoln's patent?


 


Lincoln image from MorgueFile.com

Another hoax debunked

The author of the post fessed up to his hoax two days after it went viral and was reported on by numerous media outlets:

"Pretty much the whole internet picked this thing up and ran with it...In addition to social media and bloggers, it ran as fact on a lot of big-name sites and news aggregators...I can tell you that virtually nobody checked with me to ask if it was true." - Nate St. Pierre

Moral of the story

Hoaxes, scams, and misinformation are abundant, and you need to be diligent about verifying information before you believe it.

 

A Standard Criteria for Evaluating Information

There are many different ways to evaluate information. Many researchers consider the following before incorporating a source into their work:
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
  • Relevance

Is Dihydrogen Monoxide deadly?

DHMO website

For the duration of this guide, we'll use each of these criteria to evaluate the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division website.

 

Accuracy

Establishing the accuracy of any type of information is tough to do, especially if you don't know much about the subject.

Take a moment to look at the DHMO.org website and ask yourself:

  • Is it supported by evidence?
  • Has it been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can it be verified by another source?

 

Authority

Authorship can be especially difficult to verify when reading online information, and many websites don't name any author.

Take a moment to look at the DHMO.org website and ask yourself:

  • Who is the author?
  • Does the author have any credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • What are the author's qualifications?

 

Who is the author?




 

 

Currency

Depending on your research topic, when the information was created could be very important.

Take a moment to look at the DHMO.org website and ask yourself:

  • When was this website created?
  • When was it last revised?

 

According to the footer, this website was last revised today. Does this seem possible?


 

“I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that does not have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.” - E.B. White

Objectivity

While true objectivity might be unattainable, paying attention to how bias might impact an author's writing can be informative.

Take a moment to look at the DHMO.org website and ask yourself:

  • What is the primary motivation of the site?
  • Does the website seem sound in its arguments?
  • Is the website overly emotional, or prejudiced?

 

Relevance

Relevance is perhaps the most difficult of the five criteria to ascertain as it is entirely dependent on the goals of your research.

Take a moment to look at the DHMO.org website and ask yourself:

  • Who is the intended audience - Scientists or scholars? The general public? Children?
  • Would you be comfortable citing it in your own research?

 

What type of audience would you say this website is written for?



 

You've done your due diligence. How does Dihydrogen Monoxide stand up to your scrutiny?

 

Which, if any, of the following are you MOST concerned about regarding the DHMO website?






 

Dihydrogen Monoxide debunked

If you have a background in chemistry you probably already figured out that Dihydrogen Monoxide is just another way of saying H2O, or water.

This hoax has been alarming the public for decades, and is still a popular prank that has even fooled a number of politicians.

DHMO article

 

Conclusion

Evaluating information can be a complex task. While it’s rarely as black and white as verifying the existence of the Northwest Tree Octopus, you still need to be cautious.

We hope that this guide was a helpful introduction, and that you feel more confident in evaluating everything that you see. 

Ask a librarian

UVM Librarians are available to assist you with your research. Ask a librarian for help!

 

This tutorial was created in 2013 by Erica DeFrain, then Instructional Design Librarian at the University of Vermont, and accepted into ACRL's Peer-Reviewed Instructional Materials Online Database

Archived from Guide on the Side from the University of Arizona Libraries