Evaluating Information Sources

Evaluation Activity

Important considerations for evaluating information sources include:

  • Authority
    • Who wrote the document?
    • Is there information about the author's qualifications for writing about this topic? (Education, experience, position?)
    • What organization provides the information?
  • Objectivity
    • What appears to be the purpose for publishing this information?
    • Does what you know about the organization suggest a bias?
  • Accuracy & Currency
    • When was this document created or last updated?
    • Are there errors in spelling and/or grammar?
    • Can you spot any errors of fact?
    • Does the document list the sources of its information?

Hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' is the use of water and chemicals under pressure to extract natural gas from gas-bearing rock. There is controversy about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water quality. Below are several online sources about water quality and fracking. Evaluate these using the criteria above:

  1. Food and Water Watch: Fracking
  2. Responsible Shale Gas Development
  3. Executive Summary: Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs
  4. Factual causation: the missing link in hydraulic fracture - groundwater contamination litigation.
  5. Hydraulic Fracturing

Sources of Information to Impress (or Appall) Your Instructor 

Here is a ranking of some sources to use for facts, in order of generally accepted reliability. Remember that the type of source is only a general indicator of acceptability. The reputation of the author, the organization involved, and the publisher are all factors to consider. Also consider whether the author, etc., have any special reason to be biased in the presentation of the particular subject at hand.

picture of smiling facepicture of smiling facepicture of smiling facepicture of smiling faceScholarly journals="academic journals" or "peer-reviewed journals" These rank highest on the acceptability scale, because each article is written by experts and reviewed by a panel of experts from the same field before publication. Findings may still be controversial. Gale Academic OneFile has a check box on the lower part of the search screen that lets you limit your results to scholarly journals.
picture of smiling facepicture of smiling facepicture of smiling faceGovernment reports and statisticsIn print or on the Internet. Generally considered a reliable source. Data may be collected and processed by persons with considerable expertise and academic credentials. A small number of government reports may be written with a strong bias for political purposes, but most attempt to be factual.
picture of smiling facepicture of smiling facepicture of smiling faceConference proceedingsThe acceptability rating for conference proceedings will vary somewhat depending on the prestige of the organization that holds the conference, and the degree to which the papers given at the conference are reviewed or controlled. Scientific conferences where experts are presenting to other experts are generally a good choice.
picture of smiling facepicture of smiling facepicture of smiling faceTechnical reportsTechnical reports may issue from a wide variety of sources, including government. They may be prepared by academic entities or by private consulting firms, sometimes under government contract. Technical reports state clearly the nature of the research or study and the methods used to collect and process the data.
picture of smiling facepicture of smiling faceBooksBooks are variable in reliability. Books put out by recognized and respected publishers have undergone at least some review. Books written for a scholarly audience are held to higher standards than those written for the general public, and may approach scholarly journals in acceptability. Books cannot be as up-to-date as the most recent periodicals.
picture of smiling faceMagazinesArticles in popular magazines such as Newsweek or Outdoor Life are written by reporters or free-lance writers and are examined by editors. In the widely recognized magazines, an attempt is usually made to insure accuracy, but these publications are less carefully screened than scholarly journals. Some popular periodicals, such as Sierra, are published by organizations with a distinct point of view.
picture of frowning faceNewspapersNewspapers may be needed as a source for local issues, but be sure to check facts. While a few nationally-recognized newspapers (for example New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Christian Science Monitor) have high standards and are equally acceptable with national news magazines, many local newspapers may contain inaccuracies and shoddy reporting.
picture of frowning facepicture of frowning faceCommercial Web siteCommercial Web sites are business, not scholarship. Companies want to present information that will promote their business, and may further restrained from total truthtelling by other considerations, for example, the fear of lawsuits. Check any facts you find on commercial sites in more neutral sources.
picture of frowning facepicture of frowning faceAdvocacy organization Web site or brochureAdvocacy organizations, by their nature, are trying to promote an opinion. Some are more scrupulous about facts than others, but at the least you should expect that the information presented has been chosen with a conscious bias. It is best to seek independent confirmation of the statements asserted there.
picture of frowning facepicture of frowning facepicture of frowning facePersonal Web siteIn general, personal Web sites should not be used as sources for statements of fact.


Finding Information

Clearly, books and periodical articles are a good place to look for information. Books are found in the Chemeketa library catalog. You can also search in the catalogs of other libraries to find books to request by interlibrary loan. Articles are found in the periodicals databases. Besides the main (Gale, ScienceDirect, and Oregonian) databases, some specialized databases exist on the Supplementary Database page.

Government Documents

Oregon documents can be found at the Oregon.gov Web site. There is a search engine. It can be a bit difficult to find what you are looking for.

U.S. and state documents can be found on USA.gov. This search engine is the familiar Google, but searches only in government documents, including military sites like the Army Corps of Engineers.

Finding Magazine and Newspaper Articles

To find magazine articles on a particular subject, search in a periodical database. A periodical is a magazine, newspaper, or other publication that comes out more than once a year. Many of the databases Chemeketa's library subscribes to include the full text of the articles as well as a description.

A good database to use is General OneFile, one of the Gale databases.

Chemeketa's database page allows you to access library databases on or off campus. If you are off campus, you will need a user name and password; please use the same login that you use for My Chemeketa.


To comment or request help, please e-mail Reference or call 503.399.5231.

Address of this page: http://library.chemeketa.edu/instruction/handouts/RD120katrina.php

Updated: 9 March 2012