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Boatwright Memorial Library

FYS 100: Cops, Crime, & Popular Culture (Maurantonio): Evaluating Information

Identifying Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources aka academic scholarship tends to come from people (like your professors) and is written primarily for an academic community, or others in their field. We should examine scholarly sources with a degree of criticality- though we may not be experts on a topic enough to agree or disagree with certain claims- we can still choose whether or not to engage with the text in our own writing and arguments. This engagement is part of the scholarly conversation.

  • Who is the author? What are their areas of expertise What are the author's credentials or institutional affiliation?
  • Can you trace back citations, bibliographies, or footnotes, showing the author is aware of a body of scholarship relevant to the field, and part of a scholarly conversation?
  • Was it published by an an academic institution or university press? Are they reputable in the field?
  • Is the author's work "peer reviewed" or refereed? Has the work gone through a rigorous editorial process by fellow experts in the field?

Different Types of Sources

There are many different types of information sources:

  • Mission driven work of grassroots activist or advocacy groups: policy reports.
  • Opinion, or think pieces in popular media platforms.
  • Social media: crowd sourced data collection, Twitter.
  • Journalism: podcasts, documentary, news.
  • Traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge.
  • Artistic expression: visual art, music, film.

Think critically and ask yourself the following:

  • How is this type of information relevant to my project?  Does it fall into a distinct category (a review, news piece, social media, scholarly journal article, etc.)? Why cite it?
  • Who created this information, and what is their expertise and biases?
  • When was the source produced and does this impact the relevance of the information to my project? Is it current information? Is it retrospective? Can you tell if the information is outdated?
  • Where was the source published or distributed? Was it found on a specific platform?
  • Why was this source created? To inform, express an opinion, persuade?

Not Just the Facts

There is no such thing as neutral or unbiased information. Varying levels of bias or persuasion to come into play in all forms of communication, some of which is appropriate depending on the platform and format. Bias in reporting is also revealed through which details are mentioned and what is omitted, who is quoted (the rich and powerful or the disenfranchised?), and how language is used that might impact how we perceive something (was Ferguson a riot or a popular uprising against anti-Black police violence). This is not necessarily intended to spread misinformation. We tend to view news reporting on a spectrum of bias like the chart below, but in reality it is far more complex.

Using the SIFT Method

The SIFT Method is a way to think about analyzing sources. Establishing the credibility of information can be challenging, you can follow a few steps to evaluate information that you come across, especially news or other online media.

  • Stop- pause and ask what you know about the reputation of the website, publication, or author. Are you familiar with it?
  • Investigate the source- figure out the creator's expertise, determine its significance and credibility
  • Find other coverage if your source is questionable
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

 

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