This is perhaps the major criterion used in evaluating information. Who wrote this? When we look for information with some type of critical value, we want to know the basis of the authority with which the author speaks. Here are some possible filters:
Accuracy or verifiability of details is an important part of the evaluation process, especially when you are reading the work of an unfamiliar author presented by an unfamiliar organization, or presented in a non-traditional way. Criteria for evaluating accuracy include:
Currency refers to the timeliness of information. In printed documents, the date of publication is the first indicator of currency. For some types of information, currency is not an issue: authorship or place in the historical record is more important (e.g., T. S. Eliot's essays on tradition in literature). For many other types of data, however, currency is extremely important, as is the regularity with which the data is updated. Apply the following criteria to ascertain currency:
If you found information using one of the search engines or any of the services that rate World Wide Web pages, you need to know:
All information, whether in print or by byte, needs to be evaluated by readers for authority, appropriateness, and other personal criteria for value. If you find information that is "too good to be true", it probably is. Never use information that you cannot verify. Establishing and learning criteria to filter information you find on the Internet is a good beginning for becoming a critical consumer of information in all forms. "Cast a cold eye" (as Yeats wrote) on everything you read. Question it. Look for other sources that can authenticate or corroborate what you find. Learn to be skeptical and then learn to trust your instincts.
The publishing body also helps evaluate any kind of document you may be reading. In the print universe, this generally means that the author's manuscript has undergone screening in order to verify that it meets the standards or aims of the organization that serves as publisher. This may include peer review. On the Internet, ask the following questions to assess the role and authority of the "publisher", which in this case means the server (computer) where the document lives:
Point of view or bias reminds us that information is rarely neutral. Because data is used in selective ways to form information, it generally represents a point of view. Every writer wants to prove his point, and will use the data and information that assists him in doing so. When evaluating information found on the Internet, it is important to examine who is providing the "information" you are viewing, and what might be their point of view or bias. The popularity of the Internet makes it the perfect venue for commercial and sociopolitical publishing. These areas in particular are open to highly "interpretative" uses of data.
Read Information and its Counterfeits: Propaganda, Misinformation and Disinformation for learn more about "interpretational views" that exceed the facts.
Steps for evaluating point of view are based on authorship or affiliation:
Many areas of research and inquiry deal with controversial questions, and often the more controversial an issue is, the more interesting it is. When looking for information, it is always critical to remember that everyone has an opinion. Because the structure of the Internet allows for easy self publication, the variety of points of view and bias will be the widest possible.
Referral to and/or knowledge of the literature refers to the context in which the author situates his or her work. This reveals what the author knows about his or her discipline and its practices. This allows you to evaluate the author's scholarship or knowledge of trends in the area under discussion. The following criteria serve as a filter for all formats of information: