The AA-BB-C’s of credibility

Credibility is an important aspect of academic research.  In order to argue our points well we must use trustworthy, reliable, and accurate sources.

We can determine credibility ourselves by evaluating resources for some of the following:

  1. Accuracy
    Is your resource consistent with what other resources say about your topic?  Obviously this is difficult to determine until you have done some reading.  But it’s important to differentiate between cutting edge research and falsified content.  If someone’s findings seem completely contradictory to everything else you’ve read without a good explanation, you may want to avoid using the resource OR run the resource by your professor.
  2. Authority
    Take a quick look at the author: are they a PhD or otherwise qualified researcher?  Are they affiliated with a reputable academic institution or organization?  If  the author’s credentials are not listed or if they’re not considered an expert on your topic, think twice before including the resource in your bibliography.
  3. Bias
    While writers will often include a personal opinion, you want to be sure it is not extremely one-sided or prejudiced in any way.  Even the best researchers can fall victim to a bias, so it is important to look at resources objectively and determine whether they are still useful for you, or not.  A source may still be valuable if it is skewed in some way, but make sure to present a balanced perspective in your assignment.
  4. Bibliography
    This might seem straight forward, but check to see if the author has included a bibliography at all.  You’ll be surprised how often this is not the case.  There are many explanations for this (i.e. publishers may feel that too many references make a book less accessible to the general public) but they’re not good enough when you’re completing academic research.
    Once you’ve found the bibliography, just take a quick scan of it: are they citing the same person over and over?  Do the dates of their references make sense, given their date of publication and the topic?  You don’t need to spend too much time on the bibliography, but it’s a good indication of a resource’s quality.
  5. Currency
    It is important to consider how up-to-date a resource is before relying on it.  While looking at the date of publication can be a good indicator, make sure to consider other factors.  Once you’ve done some research on your topic, for example, you’ll get a good sense of what the most current research is finding, or what the current arguments on your topic are.  It’s hard to evaluate anything for currency, then, before doing some reading.

To sum it all up: actually read the resources you find.  Don’t rely on abstracts and book reviews alone! You will be accomplishing many of the above tasks at the same time as reading, without even realizing it, so evaluation doesn’t need to take a huge amount of time.