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LS 102 Course Materials

Introduction to Information Research

Critical Thinking

We live in what has been described as the Information Age. As consumers of information, we need to be able to evaluate the information we see, hear and read.

Learn to evaluate information using these criteria:

Authority: Prefer acknowledged authorities to self-proclaimed ones. What are the author's qualifications for publishing on this subject? Do other experts in the field acknowledge this person? Are there any reviews available of earlier works? If you want to tighten your tummy, should you consult an actor on an infomercial, or a trained kinesiologist?

Is the authority (writer) working within his/her field of expertise? Or is it someone who is addressing a subject outside his/her field? Just because a person is an expert in one field, that doesn't always make him/her an expert in other areas.

 Scope: Coverage, or scope, refers to the comprehensiveness of the information.  Does the information provide wide coverage of the subject matter?  Does the information identify a target audience?  

 Proximity: Is the account first-hand? In other words, did the individual responsible for the information actually witness the events described? Or is the account separated by time and/or space from the event?

Objectivity: Is the information presented with a minimum of bias? Or does the writer of the source have a motive for influencing the way you see the event? If you sense that the writer is trying to sway your opinion one way or the other, use caution.

Specificity: In general, accounts that are exact and complete are more reliable. Writers who are vague and evasive should be used with caution.

Currency: Is the information up to date? Some research topics require fresh information: e.g., technology, science and current events. For other topics, it will be acceptable to use dated material: historical, biographical or literature. For most sources of information, check the copyright date. Some websites do not give a copyright date. To determine if a website is current, check the links on the web page. If some links are "dead," you may be looking at a website that is not maintained or that has been abandoned. Look elsewhere for your research sources.

Accountability: Prefer works by standard publishers and authors whose writings have been refereed (reviewed) by other experts in the field. Unknown or vanity presses often don't have the same rigorous requirements.

Accessibility: Preference should be given to public records because they are harder to alter. Private documents, on the other hand, can easily be changed.

Believability: Is the evidence credible (believable) on its own terms? Or is the evidence internally inconsistent or demonstrably false to any known facts?

Works published online may be even more difficult to analyze. The proprietary databases that are available to you through your status as a university student contain information that is also published in print. However, anyone even a non-expert may publish a website. When using Internet sources, be especially careful to learn about the source and author of the website.

Remember: use all criteria for critical thinking very critically! If you base your personal, political and career decisions on information…make sure it's good information.