Assessing the Credibility of Information Sources

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Credibility refers to how trustworthy or reliable a particular source is. When you’re consuming information or fact-checking a statement, you should look into the source’s credibility to determine whether it’s safe to believe their statements. There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the internet, and responsible researchers need to determine what is true and false. 

If you trust a credible source, you can move forward with confidence consuming the information and sharing it with others. Follow these steps to check for credibility. 

Criteria for Assessing Credibility: What Makes a Source Credible?

When you assess the credibility of an author or publication, you can run through a mental checklist that alerts you to any potential red flags that a source is untrustworthy. Here are a few things to look for: 

  • Author expertise;
  • Publication reputation;
  • Evidence base;
  • Potential bias.

Keep reading to learn about each of these criteria individually so you can start evaluating sources for yourself. 

Author Expertise

An author’s background can tell you a lot about whether or not they are qualified to speak on a particular topic. For example, if you want to read about a medical procedure, a credible source could be a doctor who specializes in that part of the body. 

Once you know the author is active in a relevant field, look into their years of experience and other qualifications. A marketing intern won’t have as much expertise as a decade-long founder of an SEO startup. 

You can learn more about the author of a particular piece of content by reading their bio, which is usually found at the bottom of the page. You can also research the author by checking their professional website or LinkedIn profile. 

Publication Reputation

Along with evaluating who created a particular piece of content, evaluate the publication itself. The Media Bias Chart is a good resource to see which publications are usually accurate and unbiased. Websites known for being inaccurate, focusing primarily on opinions, or skewing the truth are less trustworthy.

You can also review a publication’s history and size to determine how credible it is. While individual blogs can have useful information, they lack the fact-checking and editorial departments of larger media companies. This means even a credible source could have the occasional error that an editor otherwise would have caught. 

Evidence Base

Experienced authors will back up their claims with evidence. Look for publications that cite their sources through a bibliography or by linking within the content. If a particular source provides a statistic, it should explain where that number came from and how the survey was designed. 

For example, if you’re reading a white paper about employee engagement, it should discuss how many employees were surveyed and any steps the publication took to remove bias from the research. 

You may also need to verify the credibility of each source that the author uses to make their claims, in addition to the way the argument is constructed.

Identifying Bias

While the publication can alert you to potential bias, you can also identify this trait in the content you read.  For example, leading questions may cause a survey respondent or interviewee to answer in a specific way. Certain publications are also more likely to share information that favors their agendas. A blog about working from home is significantly more likely to share data that working from home is a good thing. 

Always consider the possibility of bias and review any potential agenda that an author or website could have for coming to certain conclusions.

Evaluating Different Types of Content: How to Determine Whether A Source is Reliable

Though it’s important to consider who the author is in a particular piece of information, it also helps to evaluate the source of the content. Different types of media will have varying levels of credibility and trustworthiness. Here’s how you can review news articles, research papers, and even social media posts to determine how credible they are. 

News Articles

One of the most important places to check for critical information is in your news media consumption. Many websites can spoof credible publications to spread fake news or inflammatory stories.

Use the media bias chart linked above as a guide to whether or not you can trust a particular website. You can also review the author’s credibility and check for journalistic standards discussed in the publication’s editorial guidelines. This will help you stick with reputable resources instead. 

Research Papers

Research papers can also be misleading because they look authoritative at first glance. Evaluating research papers is even more important as we enter the era of artificial intelligence, with computers generating fake and incorrect studies.  

You can identify whether a paper is reputable by checking the publication, reading about the credentials of the authors, and making sure it’s peer-reviewed by others in the field. You can also review the methodology to ensure the researchers followed scientific best practices to remove bias and generate the best possible results. 

Social Media Posts

It’s also important to assess the credibility and truth behind social media content. Here are a few steps to take:

  • Check the author of the post and the publication to make sure they’re credible.
  • Confirm that you can find the information shared on other reputable sources. If a post seems too outlandish or only one source is reporting it, don’t trust the information. 
  • Make sure you can find the original post. Don’t trust screenshots because they can be edited and manipulated. It’s better to see the post on Facebook itself than a screenshot of the information.

Many trolls create spoof accounts that look authentic to mislead users. People will also edit posts to create news that the original content creators never said. Knowing this can make you more aware when viewing social posts online. 

Developing a Critical Eye

Responsible media consumers take a skeptical yet open-minded approach to the information they consume. When you land on a new page or website for the first time, evaluate the credibility of the publication and the author. This can tell you whether it’s a good idea to move forward and consume the content. 

You can practice evaluating the credibility of different sources on your own as a way to boost your critical thinking skills. Look at two different web pages that cover the same topic and identify why one page might be more credible than the other. 

Developing a critical eye can help you identify misinformation and reduce the amount of time wasted reading uncredible sources. You will become a savvier web user and can help others who don’t know to identify and avoid misleading or incorrect content.

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