Information or propaganda?
QUESTION: Does the information appear to be fact or fiction?
Is there evidence to support the facts? For most research, you only want fact based information. How do you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Can you track down the sources in the footnotes, or does the author cite mainly conversations or other unpublished or obscure sources? Does the bibliography list a number of different writers and publications, or rely heavily on one or two sources? Can you find other sources with similar information? Be especially careful of Web sites that make undocumented claims that you cannot verify elsewhere.
QUESTION: Is there bias?
Does the information appear to be slanted? Does it present only one side of the story? There may be times when you recognize information is biased and you want (need) to use it in your research. Usually when you are using biased information, you will want to find sources on both sides of the issue. For example, if you are looking at information on genetically modified foods, you could look at sources from both Greenpeace, an organization that strongly opposes them, and Monsanto a company that develops genetically modified seeds.
QUESTION: Is the text filled with emotional language? Does the text appeal to your feelings and not your intellect?
Organizations can be an excellent source for highlighting issues involved with a topic, but they can also use information to promote their cause. When you look at information, and you feel as if someone or some group is trying to convince you to think a certain way, scrutinize the information very carefully.
- An article's bibliography lists 15 different sources...but 14 of them are by the author of the article.
- An anti-animal experimentation Web site uses words like 'torture' and 'slaughter' over and over again with exclamation points...but possible alternatives to animal research are never addressed
- You find a Web site that evaluates videos. The description on the home page begins, " An excellent source for reviews of movies which are wholesome, family entertainment." Wholesome is a relative term.
The following are external links and will open in a pop-up window.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a site about animal rights that tends to use emotional language to make its point.
American Conservative Union is a conservative site that can tend to show bias and use emotional language.