Skip to main content

Research Writing - Oakland Campus: Evaluating Web Sources

This support guide was created for students in ENGCMP 0450: Research Writing and the Professional Writing Program

Spotting Fake News

How to Spot Fake News: Consider the Source, Check the Author, Check the Date, Check Your Biases, Read Beyond, Find Supporting Sources, Determine if it's a Joke, Ask the Experts

From: International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.  How To Spot Fake News. (n.d.). Retrieved August 28, 2017, from https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174

Tips for Analyzing News Sources on the Open Internet

Tips for analyzing news sources:

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).

  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources  

  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.

  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.

  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.

  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).

  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.

  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.

  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.

  • If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.

  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

© 2016 by Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication & media, Merrimack College

Strategies for Evaluating Sources: Abbreviated P.R.O.V.E.N.

Use the P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation Process to help you determine whether the sources you find are credible and appropriate choices for your particular research purpose. The process of evaluating a source includes examining the source itself and examining other sources by:

  • Checking for previous work. Has someone already fact-checked this source?
  • Finding the original source. Who originally published the information and why?
  • Reading laterally. What do other people say about this publication and author?
  • Circling back. How can you revise your original search to yield better results?
  • Checking your own emotions. Is your own bias affecting your evaluation?1

The questions below will help you think critically during the source evaluation process:

  • Purpose: How and why the source was created. Why does this information exist, why is it in this form (book, article, website, etc.), and who is the intended audience? Is the purpose clear?
  • Relevance: The value of the source for your needs. How useful is this source in answering your question, supporting your argument, or adding to your knowledge? Is the type and content of the source appropriate for your assignment?
  • Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information. How thorough and balanced is this source? Does it present fact or opinion? How well do its creators acknowledge their point of view, represent other points of view fully, and critique them professionally?
  • Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information. How well do the creators of this source support their information with factual evidence, identify and cite their sources, and accurately represent information from other sources? Can you find the original source(s) of the information or verify facts in other sources? What do experts say about the topic?
  • Expertise: The authority of the authors and the source. Who created this source and what education and/or professional or personal experience makes them authorities on the topic? How was the source reviewed before publication? Do other experts cite this source or otherwise acknowledge the authority of its creators?
  • Newness: The age of the information. Does your topic require current information? How up-to-date is this source and the information within it? 

1Based on Caulfield, Mike. "Four Moves and a Habit." Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, 2017.

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation by Ellen Carey (6/18/18) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Decisions

20 Cognitive Biases that Screw Up Your Decisions

From:  Lee, S., & Lebowitz, S. (2015, August 26). 20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-that-affect-decisions-2015-8