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Composition 2 - Johnstown Campus: Evaluating Information

This guide was developed for English Composition 2 classes at the Johnstown campus

Why do I need to evaluate my sources?

Why do I need to evaluate my sources? Because your paper is only as good as your sources.

Let's use a practical example to illustrate this.  Pretend you are fixing up an old car, and you'd like to sell it for a small profit.  A lot of parts in the car don't work, so you need to buy some to get it up and running.  Can you go to the junkyard and just get any old parts?  No, not if it you want it to run. 

First, you need to have an understanding of how that particular car works, and then you need to be sure that you have good quality parts.  You don't want the car to break down right after someone buys it.  The car will only be as good as the parts that you put into it.

Writing a paper is like fixing up that car.  You can't just use any old source that you find on the Internet or in the library's databases.  First, you need to have an understanding of your topic or argument.  Then you need to be sure that you pick sources that are not only appropriate to your thesis, but ones that are also of good quality.  Like the car, you don't want your paper breaking down halfway through!

CRAAP test

Do I have a reliable source?

You are required to use reliable sources, including books, articles, and websites.  How do you know if a source is reliable?  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself in order to determine if a source is reliable:

Who?

  • Who is the author?
  • What degrees or experience does the author have?
  • Is the author an expert in that field?
  • Is the author affiliated with a particular institution?

What?

  • Is the article or journal scholarly/peer-reviewed?
    (Scholarly/peer-reviewed articles are written by experts in that field and then reviewed by other experts in that same field for validity, accuracy, and overall quality prior to being published.)
  • Does the author cite his/her sources?
  • If yes, are they credible sources?

When?

  • When was the source published?
  • Is currency important to your topic?

Why?

  • Did the author publish this source with a particular agenda in mind?
  • Based on the author's word choice and tone, does the author have any particular bias?

In-class project

Working together in groups of three, skim over the three articles linked below related to Russian computer hacking. Evaluate each of them as if you were doing a paper on this topic. Consider the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose of the articles, and discuss the pros and cons of each one. It would be most efficient if your group splits up the articles so each of you does one.

Hacking on an industrial scale

Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security

Hacking goes pro (Full Text PDF)

Tips: You can Google the authors' names and publication titles. Control-F can help you search through articles quickly.

Need more help evaluating a source?

Here are more tips and guidelines for evaluating sources.