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Communications Research: Evaluating Information

Evaluating Information

All information is not created equal! Here are some tools for evaluating what you find:

The TRAAP Test

TIMELINESS

  • When was this published? Has it been updated?
  • Are there newer articles?
  • Does your topic require current info or will older sources work?
  • Are the links on the page functional

RELEVANCE

  • Does this resource relate to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the content written at the appropriate level?
  • Do you feel good about using this for a research paper?

ACCURACY

  • Where does the information in this article come from? Is it supported by evidence?
  • Has the article been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you corroborate the information?
  • Are the spelling or grammar errors? Is the information presented evenhandedly?

AUTHORITY

  • Who are the author, publisher, source, and sponsor?
  • What are the affiliations of those people/institutions?
  • Is there contact information listed for any of those people?

PURPOSE

  • Why was this article written? Do the authors make their intentions clear?
  • Is this fact or opinion? Is the point of view objective? Are there any clear sources of bias?

The SMART Test

SOURCE: Where does the article come from? Is it a reputable outlet?

MOTIVE: Is there a special interest or point of view that could cause the authors to tailor the presentation of their information to fit a certain narrative? 

AUTHORITY: What are the author's credentials? Who are they talking to?

REVIEW: Does the article make sense? Is it logically consistent? Are there any notable errors or leaps in the argument? 

TWO-SOURCE TEST: Are other outlets reporting the same story? Are the facts consistent?

The SIFT Test

Stop! Do you trust this source of information? 

Investigate the source. What is the source's reputation? Can you find information about the author or outlet from outside sources? What does that information tell you about potential sources of bias?

Find better coverage. Is this story covered elsewhere? Do alternate sources corroborate or contradict?

Trace. Check the date and see if you can trace the story back to where it was first reported. How has it changed? Is there additional context for any images used? Are quotes consistent?

The Five Ws

Who is the author? (Authority)

  • What are their qualifications?
  • Is the author affiliated with an institution? Is there an "About Us" section?
  • Is their contact information listed?

What is the purpose of this content? (Accuracy)

  • Is it well researched? Has it been checked by a reviewer, editor, or referee?
  • Are the facts and sources cited and documented? Do links point to quality sites? Are there dead links?
  • Are there grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors?

When was the item written or published? (Currency)

  • When was the site created?
  • When was the article posted and/or updated?
  • Is it important that you have the most current information?

Where does this content come from? (Publisher)

  • What is the publisher's reputation?
  • Do they take responsibility for their content?
  • Is the item a peer-reviewed journal? A magazine? A news source? A website?
    • If it is a website: Where is it published? What is the domain? Do you expect that it is a stable site?

Why does this item exist? (Purpose & Objectivity)

  • Is there a statement of purpose or intended audience anywhere in the source?
  • Does it contain mostly opinions or mostly facts?
  • Is the argument presented evenhandedly? Does the source include a multiplicity of views?
  • Does the source represent the agenda of an organization?
  • Is any advertising clearly differentiated from article content?

A Fake News Glossary

For more, check out "Understanding the Fake News Universe" from Media Matters.

Fake News

Content that is entirely false but designed to look factual on a site designed to look like a real news outlet. 

See Also, Disinformation: False or misleading information spread with the deliberate intention to deceive, especially propaganda issued by a government to a rival power or to the media.

Ask yourself: What does the URL end with (.com, .edu, .co, .horse)? How professional is the website design? Are other outlets covering the story?

Resources: PolitiFact Guide to Fake News, DailyDot List of Sites to Watch Out For

Misleading News

A fact, event, or quote taken out of context or reframed in order to serve an agenda.

Ask yourself: Is this an old quote or image that's been repurposed? Where do images, quotes, etc come from and do those sources line up with how those elements are used in the article? 

Resources: Media Bias/Fact Check‚Äč

Clickbait

Shocking or teasing headlines designed to drive engagement for ad revenue and reach.

Ask yourself: Is the headline informative or is it sensational/provocative? Does the website look reputable? Does the content match the headline?

Try it Yourself: GetBadNews

Play the role of a fake news-monger. Bad News was nominated for the 2018 Beazley Designs of the Year Award. It is targeted at users age 15+.

Detecting Bias in the News

Bias By Headline

Headlines draw readers into stories. Watch for what emotions they emphasize and whether you can tell from the get-go that the writer approves or disapproves of the facts of the story.

Bias by Emphasis and Omission

Editors choose whether or not to run a story and within those stories watch for how facts are framed. The best way to surface this kind of bias is to compare news coverage.

In particular, watch for how names and titles are used. What descriptors are used? Are people framed in the context of their worst or best attributes? What does that framing do to your opinion as you read? What are the connotations of the words used?

Bias by Design

Where a story is placed influences perceived importance. Knowing that newspapers run stories they think are the most important toward the font and that broadcast news runs stories they anticipate drawing better ratings toward the top can help you understand biases that might lurk beyond the content of the stories.

Angles and captions can also be a source of design bias. Ask yourself if the literal framing of the story is designed to elicit a particular reader response.