When you are writing for academia or research purposes, knowing your sources are legitimate is an important part of the process. You want to know that your stories and facts are accurate, and came from a reliable source. It is especially difficult on the internet to decide if something is true or not, as many things on the web can be faked or forged.
When you find a source you would like to use, take some time to verify the validity.
But how can you tell that your sources are always trustworthy?
Here are five ways to background check your sources:
1 – Background Check of the Author
Academic or non-fiction works should always have an author listed, and a location – perhaps the university or lab where the research took place, or just where they happen to live. There are websites that are most often used by employers to screen potential employees, but if you are really dedicated, you can sometimes screen people to find out their education background.
For example, at ScoutLogic, they have an education screening that can indicate the highest degree completed. That way, you can find out if an author with the Master’s degree really has one, or if the “research” you’re reading is unverified.
2 – Primary, Secondary, Etc.
The next thing you should do is determine what type of source you’re looking at:
- Primary sources are the best options – they are actual, first-hand account of events or research. They are considered the authority on the subject but can occasionally lack objectivity.
- Secondary sources are a step beyond primary sources, and usually involve some kind of interpretation or analysis of a primary option.
Anything that doesn’t count as either of these two types should be suspicious. Try to only cite works that fall into one of these categories.
3 – Fact Checking
If you’re looking at an article or research report, it will cite other sources with similar (or even opposing) data. Don’t just look up one thing and take it at face value. Compare it against other research and information in the same field.
If there is numerical data involved, make sure to double check the numbers to see if they add up. Not all data findings will be the same, but you should have a collection to back up your points and not just pick one and assume it’s the best choice.
4 – Look at the Web Address
If you are using resources from the internet, check the web address of the writing. If it comes from a “.com” or “.org” website, it may not be the most reliable option.
Try to find sources from “.edu” and “.gov” websites, which are more likely to have legitimate research and information. Some other types of websites will use data from these, so just be sure to check where your data is coming from before you use it.
5 – Check the Dates
It’s a little different if you are looking for historical information, but checking for the most recently updated data can help the validity of your research.
We learn new things everyday, and all subjects are consistently evolving. Even historical data can be “updated” to some extent, as we learn more about translation and find more artifacts, for instance.
Be sure to always look at the dates on your sources. Anything older than 10 years is likely to be disproved!
Research can feel like a tedious process, but it’s important to know your sources are accurate and legitimate. Taking the extra time to verify things like the date, the source, and the author’s background can help support your own research, too. Follow these guidelines and you will find excellent resources.