Evaluating Credible Sources Used Within a Reading
As you read through research looking for suitable evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. to support your own claimsA statement that something is true, such as the thesis of an essay. A successful writer must present evidence to prove his/her claim., you must be able to evaluate the sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. writers use to support their own claims. In this lesson, you will learn how to identify attributive phrasesA short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. and in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and recognize the writer's use of credibleDescribes a person who is trusted and able to be believed; reliable. sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information..
Identifying Sources Cited in a Reading
Writers need to alert the reader that they have used source materialInformation that is quoted or paraphrased from outside works, such as journal articles, online documents, and books. to strengthen their claims. They do so with attributive phrases and in-text citations; combined, these include all information necessary to locate a source in an essay'sA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. full list of sources. The form of the attributive phrases and in-text citations depends upon the citation style being used. Many college professors require you to use either MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. format to cite sources. Although there are other citationA reference within a text to an outside source of ideas, quotes, or information. Citations can be placed within sentences or in a separate works cited or reference section, as specified by the style guide in use. styles, including The Chicago Manual of StyleA set of guidelines for grammar, punctuation, and citations, widely used by students, editors, and general interest publications., Turabian, and CSE (Council of Science Editors), this lesson will focus on MLA and APA. All citation styles share similar elements; if you understand the major citation elements, you will be able to learn the requirements of any style.
Attributive phrases indicate that a source is about to be incorporated. The attributive phrases in the examples below have been underlined. These examples provide the proper format for in-text citations in both MLA- and APA-style:
MLA: Thomas writes that Evans intended to "inspire a new generation of playwrights" (42).
APA: Thomas writes (2011) that Evans intended to "inspire a new generation of playwrights" (p. 42).
MLA: According to Thomas, Evans wrote best at his home in Florida, "rising early and finishing late" (31).
APA: According to Thomas (2011), Evans wrote best at his home in Florida, "rising early and finishing late" (p. 31).
MLA: In Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Baumeister et al. identify extensive research that demonstrates that increased self-esteem has very few benefits and many disadvantages (2003).
APA: In Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs (2003) present extensive research that demonstrates that increased self-esteem has very few benefits and many disadvantages.
Note that in APA-style in-text citations, you need to include the year the source material was published or produced.
Also note the use of the term et al. in the MLA-style citation above. Et al. is a Latin expression that means and others. It is an abbreviation that is used to indicate multiple writers of text; however, MLA and APA have different standards for its use. As you can see in the examples above, the cited articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. has four writers. MLA style allows the use of et al. in both in-text cites and in the works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper. whenever there are four or more writers. APA style does not allow use of et al. in the references pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an APA-formatted essay or research paper., but it does allow it in some in-text citations:
As noted above, attributive phrases and citations directly identify where to find more information about a source in the works cited or references page. These pages come directly after your essay and must include full citations for all of the sources used in your work.
Example of an APA references page:
Carol, J.B., Sands, A., & Karotti, R. (2012). The quality of physical education in America. Journal of Middle School Teachers, 220(1), 10-42.
Erickson, A., Winters, C.C., Smith, J., & Douglas, N. (2009). Parachutes, scooters, and kites: Examining the role of play and group activities in middle-school physical education. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychology, 10(3), 66-69.
Mumson, B., & Smith, J. (2011). Teacher-parent communications and the effect on evaluation and development of new school athletic programs: Getting the kids moving. Journal of American Sports, 2(1), 50-62.
Utterly, H., & Finsem, G. (2012). The impact of television, Internet, and video games on the child’s growing reluctance to play sports. Technology and Kids, 16(4), 111-123.
Example of an MLA works cited page:
Carol, John B., Andrea Sands, and Ruth Karotti. “The Quality of Physical Education in America.” Journal of Middle School Teachers 220.1 (2012): 10-42. Print.
Erickson, Allen, Christina C. Winters, Josephine Smith and Neri Douglas. “Parachutes, Scooters, and Kites: Examining the Role of Play and Group Activities in Middle-School Physical Education.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychology 10.3 (2009): 66-9. Print.
Mumson, Benjamin, and Josephine Smith. “Teacher-Parent Communications and the Effect On Evaluation and Development of New School Athletic Programs: Getting the Kids Moving.” Journal of American Sports. 2.1 (2011): 50-62. Print.
Utterly, Henry and Graham Finsem. “The Impact of Television, Internet, and Video Games on the Child’s Growing Reluctance to Play Sports.” Technology and Kids 16.4 (2012): 111-23. Print.
Identifying Credible Sources
Once you understand where the sources come from through attributive phrases and in-text citations, you can determine whether the source is credible or not and determine whether it has been used effectively.
Ask yourself these questions of each source:
Was it published in a scholarly journal?
There is an important distinction between a magazine article and a scholarly journal article. Magazine articles are typically written by journalists who write on a variety of topics, meaning that they do research on whatever topicThe subject of a reading. they are writing about much like a student doing an assignment. Scholarly journal articles are written by expertsSomeone who is very knowledgeable about a topic. in a particular field of study, such as professors and PhD candidates at a university, and the journals themselves are called "peer-reviewedWritings that have been evaluated by experts in a subject before they are published. journals." This means that all of the articles and contributions in the journal have been read, assessed, and critiqued by other experts (professors) in the same field of study prior to being published. The process of peer-review is actually quite competitive and rigorous; therefore, you can generally assume a higher degree of credibility from information gathered in peer-review journals than popular magazines or newspaper articles. Typically, peer-reviewed journals can be trusted as reliable sources. The main way peer-reviewed journal articles lose their credibility is if they become out of date, so studies and articles that are more than four years old should be checked for relevance and accuracy.
Who wrote it? What are their credentials, reputations, and institutional affiliations?
Once you have determined where the source comes from and if it is peer-reviewed, take it a step further and look at the writer of the piece. Is this an individual known among his or her academic or professional community? How long has she worked in the field? How many publications does he have? Where does he do his research or studying? Is her work often cited or referenced by other academics, scholars, or practitioners?
Who is the intended audience?
Knowing for whom the author is writing is a good way to evaluate the source. Is it a piece intended for a very specific group of academics studying a narrow topic? For example, an article in the Journal of Nanotechnology about the risks of using gold-coated nanomedicine in infant trials might be appropriate for cancer researchers; however, it likely is not appropriate for a freshman-level English composition paper addressing the general concerns about children being used in medical research.
Are the source's sources credible?
Be sure to read your source carefully and critically assess the writer's source material. You may ask yourself if the writer herself is relying upon peer-reviewed articles or less reliable sources. You will want to look for potential biasesIn writing, bias indicates a writer's personal prejudice for or against an idea, person, activity, or object. Being objective, or displaying no tendency toward a preference, is the opposite of showing bias. and logical fallaciesA mistake in reasoning; faulty thinking that weakens an argument or leads to an incorrect conclusion., as well.
How was the source funded?
How a source is funded can be a potential source of conflict of interest. For example, pharmaceutical companies often commission their own research studies. The success of their product can hinge on the success of these studies and may develop biased interpretations or presentations of research results.
When was the source written? Is it outdated?
As with scholarly journals, any source material that is over four years old begins to lose its credibility. However, in some instances, new research and data is simply unavailable or the findings have not changed significantly. In these instances, it is acceptable for the source material to be over four years old.+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
The ability to identify credible sources is essential to success in both academic and professional situations. Imagine this academic example: you are working as an assistant on a scientific research project. Your supervisor, the lead professor in biochemistry, has been asked to conduct a study on Pharmaceutical Company XYZ's latest anti-seizure medication. In turn, he has requested that you research and write a summary paper of all research conducted on similar drugs in the past. Your professor will expect you to look through a great deal of information and only bring him what is credible and reliable. Knowing how to identify source materials and then assess their credibility will be a large part of this process.
Here is an example of a text in which a student writer uses different sources in support of her thesis and main ideas. First, read through the article, paying attention to attributive phrases, in-text citations, quotations, and other indications of source material.
Team Sports Help Players Score in Life
America is obsessed with team sports. Parents sign their young children up for Tee Ball and soccer leagues, while older fans eagerly join school and recreational programs in sports like football, basketball, and hockey. These are all seen as fun and healthy ways to make friends and get exercise. But there's another powerful claim made for team sports – they teach life skills that will help participants prosper far beyond the playing field.
According to the Wikipedia entry on life skills, "Life skills are behaviors used appropriately and responsibly in the management of personal affairs. They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life." There are a wide range of life skills, but the ones most often associated with team sports include confidence, patience, sportsmanship, self-discipline, leadership, the ability to lose with dignity and win with grace, and an appreciation for hard work. Team sports appear to be an effective and reliable way to instill such skills across a range of ages and backgrounds.
Grade school sports are loosely organized and focused more on fun than achievement, but with the right approach from both coaches and parents, even young children can gain life skills, according to TrueShoes magazine. TrueShoes, maker of sports equipment and apparel, reports that a study it funded at the College of Western Nevada found that five- to ten-year-olds had higher levels of cooperative behavior and respect when team play was followed by using "teachable moments" from the game to explicitly talk about these ideas (2012).
Studies have also shown that team sports help middle and high school students cope with the challenges of teenage life. For example, "Relationships between Youth Sport Participation and Risk Behaviors," a report published in the Journal of School Health, found that team members were not only healthier, more self-confident, and more academically successful than their non-athlete peers, they also had markedly lower arrest, teen pregnancy, drug use, and drop-out rates (2008).
The life skills gained through team sports appear to stick with participants even after their playing days are over. Dr. Bill Berry, Professor of Physical Education at the University of Wisconsin, has repeatedly blogged about surveys he conducts on campus every year. Students report that the social skills they learned during team play as youths have helped them integrate into college life and job situations.
In fact, team sports have such power to instill life skills that some of these qualities can even be learned secondhand. The nonprofit program called Classroom Champions pairs up Olympians and Paralympians (athletes with physical disabilities) with schools in poor areas. The athletes spend a year holding online chats, using their team sport experiences as examples to help teach students about fair play, goal setting, and perseverance. A teacher participating in the program reports that the result is "significant improvements in school performance and classroom behavior."
It's clear that team sports are just as good for the mind as they are for the body. Even if you never make it to the big leagues in your sport, team sports can still help you become a winner in your life.
After reading the text, you can consider and evaluate the sources used by the writer. Some of the sources may be credible; some may not be credible.
Wikipedia.com: Not credible. Anyone can post or edit information on Wikipedia, whether or not they have expertise in the subject. Although entries are policed by members of the relevant scholarly and academic communities, there is no way to ensure that the material available at any moment is accurate or comprehensive. Therefore, Wikipedia cannot be used as a credible source for a research or critical analysis paper.
TrueShoes magazine article: More research required. Although the article refers to a study conducted by a credible academic institution, scientific studies are often interpreted in a misleading or incorrect way in the popular press. The writer should have looked up the original study to get the full picture. In addition, the fact that the study was funded by a company with a vested interest in promoting team sports raises concerns of bias.
Journal of School Health study: Credible. This is a peer-reviewed journal that offers scholarship specifically about the factors that impact the health of school children, and the study was conducted fairly recently.
Dr. Bill Berry's blog: More research required. Although Dr. Berry has strong academic credentials, blogs and informal surveys are not reliable sources for critical analysis. In addition, the writer does not provide a link for the blog, so the reader has no way to assess the description of the doctor's work or look for a more formal report.
Primary source material (the teacher from Classroom Champions): Not credible. The writer doesn't identify the teacher, or quantify the "significant improvements" attributed to the program, making this claim anecdotalA brief, interesting story that supports a claim in a critical analysis or persuasion essay. and not scientific.
Now it's your turn to identify the sources used in a text and assess their credibility. Read through the sample student writing below. Then, identify sources cited throughout the reading and evaluate the credibility of each of them.
Importance of Sleep
Benjamin Franklin coined the proverb "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." My mom used to repeat it to me all the time when she'd catch me reading under the covers with a flashlight. I never listened though—as soon as she went to bed I'd be back at it until late at night. I knew it meant I'd be dragging in school the next day, but I didn't care. I always figured I'd just sleep extra on the weekend to make up for it.
That more or less worked, until I got to college. Suddenly sleeping in on Saturday morning couldn't seem to make up for all-nighters and parties the rest of the week. I caught every cold there was, gained fifteen pounds, and almost flunked out my first semester. That was the first thing I really learned in college: I should have listened to my mother!
After that rough start, I made sure to get plenty of sleep, and I made it through the rest of the year just fine. But these days, I'm busier than ever. There are lots of things I need to get done every day, and I don't want to waste time sleeping when I could be having fun, studying, or working. So I've decided to find out how much sleep is enough, and the best way to get it. Luckily, many scientists have been asking the same questions.
Consider the research study in Sleep Now or Sick Later, the newest book by Dr. Marla Silva, a sleep expert from Brown University, employee of Pharmaceuticals DFG, and host of the television talk show Sweet Dreams with Dr. Silva. Her controlled experimental study determined that the average adult needs six to eight hours of good sleep each night. (Good sleep is defined as cycling through repeated interludes of light to deep sleep and dreaming without awakening.) Silva is a huge proponent of getting good sleep by any means necessary, including medication.
Another group of researchers at the world-renowned Sleep Disorders Centre in London agree that six to eight hours is about right. But they oppose the use of sleeping pills because while pills provide a temporary cure for insomnia, in the long term they disrupt the natural cycle. In their article "Sleep Hygiene Essential to the Development of Natural and Healthy Sleep Patterns," these researchers claim the safest way to attain regular sleep is to obey the following rules: 1) Avoid caffeinated beverages after lunch; 2) Do not eat, drink, smoke, or exercise within two hours of bedtime; 3) Do not watch television in bed; 4) Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. (2004). A number of follow-up studies by independent scientists have reached similar conclusions.
So scientists all think sleep is important, even if they don't agree on the best ways to get it. I’ve learned that I can increase my chances of good health and overall happiness with six to eight hours of rest a night, and that there are lots of strategies I can try to sleep better. Thanks for the tip, Mr. Franklin!
List the sources and evaluate them.
The writer: Not credible. The writer's personal experience of sleep deprivation is anecdotal, and provides very limited evidence at best.
Dr. Silva's research study: More research required. Although she's a scientist at a well-respected institution, the writer does not cite any of her studies or provide links to peer-reviewed journals. The writer should be skeptical of research filtered through popular literature and TV talk shows, which often leave out important details. Finally, the link between Dr. Silva and a pharmaceutical company raises the issues of conflict of interest and bias concerning the use of medication.
The work by the researchers at the Sleep Disorders Centre: Credible. While one might want to investigate the claim that the clinic is "world-renowned," they have published a research study in a peer-reviewed journal that has become a source cited by other reputable researchers over the years. The research is fairly recent.
What are some characteristics of credible sources?
Credible sources tend to be those that are authored by experienced writers or academics within a specific area of study. Peer-reviewed journals are often viewed as some of the most credible sources available to researchers and writers because they have gone through a lengthy process of verification and questioning prior to being published. Other characteristics might be the source of the source—i.e., who is paying for this work—the reputation of the source and its staff and writers, how long it has been in publication, and how often other writers rely upon the sources for their own arguments.
Which is worse, having no sources to support a claim, or using sources that are not credible? Explain.
It is worse to base a claim upon sources that are not credible than to have no evidentiary sources to begin with. When you are presenting a unique argument for which there are no sources to directly support it, you can still look to sources that discuss similar issues. While your reader then has to decide whether further investigation of your claims is worth the time and effort, at least you have made a sound argument based upon something that is real and verifiable. On the other hand, if you craft a claim that is based on sources that are not credible, your work as a whole loses credibility. You will be viewed not as taking a risk but rather as being sloppy and careless.
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