Evaluating information is so important - especially because sometimes students don't realize they are falling for misleading sources or they might be wasting time on sources that aren't going to be so useful for them. Additionally, one of the most problematic parts of doing research assignments for many students is citing sources. We have lots of resources to help figure out the rules, but it's also important to understand why we cite things. Citation is just part of how we practice good, ethical use of information.
As you gather information for your research project or assignment, it is important to spend time evaluating that information and its source. Why? Well, information comes from many places, from academic journals to popular magazines to Youtube to blogs to organizational websites to newspapers and more! Some of those sources may be more or less appropriate for your needs. Also, information is created by different people for many reasons - to inform, to persuade, to sell, to generate conversation, to troll, to entertain, etc. For good research, you need information that is accurate and unbiased, coming from sources you can trust. But how do you go about evaluating information for research purposes?
Let's imagine that you've just heard something surprising about an acquaintance - how to you decide whether to believe this gossip?
Just like this social life example, we ask a lot of questions and use discernment to judge information in our research, paying extra attention to its source. Here's something to try - look at a source in terms of these 3 criteria:
First, we consider how relevant a source is to my information needs - does this address my topic adequately, does it contain current information? We also think about Expertise - who are the authors or publishers of this source, and do they have an appropriate level of expertise on this topic? Last, let's look at Bias - why was this information created, is the source designed to create a certain reaction and why? Any source or piece of information may fall somewhere different on these 3 scales, and taking the time to evaluate this way will help you understand more deeply whether the information you find is the best choice for your research.
Why do we cite information in our research projects and papers? Remember, good information often comes from the hard work and study of other scholars, and we practice justice in our studies when we give credit to those whose work has helped us learn. Not only that, but we provide a pathway for others to learn from by showing where we got our information, if our readers would like to know more.
Citing sources can be tricky - it is managed with different methods called styles, which outline all the rules we should follow in formatting our citations. There are many different styles used in the scholarly world, but some of the most common styles are MLA, Chicago (sometimes called Turabian), and APA. Many professors have particular styles that they require you to use in your assignments, mainly because certain styles are more preferred in that subject. For example, the most common styles for English, History, and the Arts are MLA and Chicago/Turabian, while APA is the most common for many of the Sciences, like Nursing.
It is very important to follow the right style rules for every source you cite! Where can you find these rules? They are published in the style manuals, which the library owns (find them on our research guide to Citing Sources here), and there are several very helpful guides online you can look up, such as Purdue OWL's research and citation guide, which has examples of all kinds of citations in all the main styles. You can also use online citation generators, such as Calvin's own KnightCite and CitationMachine. Finally, perhaps the best place to get help on citations is the Calvin Rhetoric Center - the student Rhetoric Consultants there can sit down with you to go through your paper in person and answer any of your questions about citations (see more and make an appointment here).