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ENGL 1200: Writing II (Hoekzema): Evaluate Sources

Objectivity vs. Subjectivity: Screening for Bias

Any source whether it be a book, article, oral history, website, piece of art, etc. can be biased which is why good researchers always question everything they see/hear. It is always important to evaluate all of the resources you find during the research process to determine their level of objectivity/subjectivity and to identify any biases. Doing this will help you determine which resources are the best for your paper or project.

Objectivity: Striving (as far as possible or practicable) to reduce or eliminate biases, prejudices, or subjective evaluations by relying on verifiable data. [BusinessDictionary. Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/objectivity.html]

Subjectivity: Refers to how someone's judgment is shaped by or based on individual personal impressions, feelings, and opinions rather than external facts. [Vocabulary.com Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/subjectivity]

Bias: An inclination or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. It is often one-sided, lacks a neutral viewpoint, and ignores or distorts any facts and verifiable data that is contrary to that person's perspective or belief. Biases can be learned implicitly within cultural contexts. People may develop biases toward or against an individual, an ethnic group, a nation, a religion, a social class, a political party, theoretical paradigms and ideologies within academic domains, or a species.[1] Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, or not having an open mind. Bias can come in many forms. [Wikipedia. Retrieved November 17, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias]

Striving (as far as possible or practicable) to reduce or eliminate biases, prejudices, or subjective evaluations by relying on verifiable data.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/objectivity.html
Striving (as far as possible or practicable) to reduce or eliminate biases, prejudices, or subjective evaluations by relying on verifiable data.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/objectivity.html

Ask yourself the 4 W's: Who, Why, When & Where

Who?

  • Who wrote or created the resource? Do you know anything about the person's age, religion, race, education or occupation?
  •  Who is the intended audience? An article in a tabloid newspaper has a very different audience then a scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed, academic journal.
  • Who are the stakeholders? A stakeholder is someone who has an investment or interest in a given topic or issue. Thinking about who the stakeholders are (or might be) allows you to evaluate why the information was produced, and who it is trying to influence.

Why?

  • Why was the resource created?
    • Often times a resource is created to persuade the reader/viewer/listener to accept a particular viewpoint about something or ar their specific interpretation of an event, idea or belief. 
    • Was it intended to be a factual or fictional representation?

When?

  • When was the resource created? The societal culture and time in which it was created can have a large impact on creator and the resource. Keep in mind:
    • Historical context of when the resource was created. Different societal values and beliefs or scientific evidence may have changed the value, relevance or interpretations of the resource over time.
    • The amount of time between the creation of the source and the actual event. This could impact the accuracy of dates, places, people, etc.
    • Older resources provide a glimpse of what life was like in the past.
    • The format of the resource (diaries, videos, movies, emails, etc.) or the materials it was created from (gold, clay, etc.)  also can provide a glimpse of what life was like in the past.
  • If the content of the resource is research, consider its context in relation to that field of study. This can impact the level of relevance of that resource to you as a researcher.
    • Is it a seminal study (original, groundbreaking) that started the research in that topic or drastically changed the direction of the topic?
    • Is it brand new, cutting edge research?
    • Does it fall some where in between the seminal study and the most current research?

Where?

  • Where was it created?
    • Was it created in a country with a high or a low level of government censorship or restrictions?
    • Did the event in the resource happen in a different location from where the creator of the resource was?
      • Cultural differences could impact the creator's interpretations of what happened, where it happened and/or why it happened.
      • If the creator didn't experience the event first hand, s/he has to rely on second-hand information and accounts of the event; in some cases it might be an even more distant relationship from the actual participants. This could impact both the accuracy and reliability of the resource.

RADAR Test

Evaluating Sources: Apply the RADAR Test

If you're interested in learning more about "fake news" and what you can do about it, check out the Fake News guide we have put together. The guide contains tips, links to articles, videos, and other resources to help you make sense of the information you encounter online.

Spotting Fake News

From International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA): http://blogs.ifla.org/lpa/files/2017/01/How-to-Spot-Fake-News.pdf