When using online articles as research sources in an academic paper, it is important to evaluate each article thoroughly to ensure you're using articles that meet academic rigor. What does that mean? Not all sources are created equal! The news sites we visit in our spare time or share on social media may not necessarily be appropriate for a college-level assignment. The articles you use should be fact-based, and should answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of an event or news story. The following tabs summarize how to apply the CRAAP Test, a common source evaluation tool, to determine credibility of sources.
When using a news article as a source, considering the publication date of the article is extremely important. News articles are primary sources written as an event unfolds, so the information can change over time as we learn more. Using the most up-to-date article is crucial. Articles found through search engines or on social media may be out of date even if shared recently.
As you consider an article's currency, ask yourself:
Is this a recent article?
Has the article been updated?
Are the author's references current?
Research is not just about finding sources - it is about finding the best sources. You should expect to do multiple searches in multiple databases or web sites to find more articles than you need. From there, you can narrow down the sources you actually use to those which contain the most helpful research.
As you consider an article's relevance, ask yourself:
Does the information in this article help answer my thesis?
Who is the intended audience?
Is the source too juvenile, or too scholarly?
Did I read past the headline and first few lines of the article?
Is this the best article I can find on my topic?
With all sources, you want to make sure the author has some sort of expertise or exposure to your topic. Traditionally expertise would be established through the author's education or work experience. This can be difficult to discern with news sources as the authors are usually not subject experts, but journalists. Many online news sites hire content experts, but this is unlikely with a newspaper. When you consider authority in news sources, you should also evaluate the media source and its credibility.
As you consider an article's authority, ask yourself:
Who is the author?
What are the author's credentials?
Has the author written other articles on the same or similar topic?
What is the domain/sponsor of the website?
Is the source a blog or a news source?
Is the website satirical or a hoax?
Because your article may not always be written by an expert, you must ensure that the author is consulting reliable sources to write accurate articles. Those sources may be presented in a variety of ways, including an interview with an expert or witness, statistical data, or data reports.
As you consider an article's accuracy, ask yourself:
Does the author provide any sources or citations?
Do those citations link to other credible sources?
Can the content be verified by multiple sources?
Does the author's tone seem unbiased?
Information can be reported for a variety of reasons. Reliable news sources report on facts with the purpose of informing readers. Beware of articles meant to sell you something, persuade you, or entertain you. Not all articles on news sites or in newspapers are fact-based. Watch out for editorials, opinion pieces, and advertisements.
As you consider an article's purpose, ask yourself:
Why did the author write this information?
Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
Does the author's tone come across as impartial?
Does this article provoke an emotional response?
One of the most difficult aspects of detecting an author's purpose is trying to identify any potential biases. An author is biased when their personal beliefs or opinions interfere with his or her ability to impartially report facts. News companies themselves can also be politically, religiously, culturally, or racially biased. Even your own personal bias can interfere in researching responsibly. Confirmation bias occurs when we interpret sources or seek out sources that align with our personal beliefs. Consider the media bias chart below. Do you normally get your online news from a biased source?
There are other kinds of bias aside from those noted above. The University of Texas Libraries has created a comprehensive list of the different kinds of bias you may find in the media.
|Commercial Bias||News is sponsored by advertisers. Does the news presented reflect the advertisements embedded within the media?|
|Temporal Bias||News agencies look for "breaking stories," often relegating old news to the back page or leaving it entirely uncovered. Scan the back pages too!|
|Visual Bias||Including visuals will draw the reader's attention. Do images presented evoke specific responses? Do they prejudice the reader to view the news one way?|
|Sensationalism||Good news is less exciting than news that is shocking or frightening. Does the media exaggerate details to make a story more interesting? Does the news agency focus only on the negative aspects of a story?|
|Narrative Bias||Writers will generally develop a plot line - beginning, middle, and end - complete with drama. News, however, is rarely so tidy. Remind yourself that stories you read in the news are "unfolding." If a story captures your attention, its best to follow that story over a period of time.|
|Fairness Bias||Ethical journalism is, in theory, fair. When a controversy arises, reporters will generally attempt to get the "other side" of the story. When a rebuttal is reported, it can seem like the media is taking one side or another. Read carefully to determine if presentation of both arguments is neutral.|
|Expediency Bias||News is driven by deadlines. Those deadlines sometimes mean that reporters will return to experts they know well and have had successful contacts with previously. This may slant news in towards the political views of these experts.|
Choosing Your Keywords When Searching the Library
An effective book or database search depends on a good choice of keywords (you cannot type a question into the catalog). How do you pull out keywords from your research question or statement to use in your catalog search?
Here's an example:
What are the effects of media violence on teenagers?
Effects OR Consequences
Media OR Television OR Movies
Violence OR Aggression OR Destructive Behavior
Teenagers OR Adolescents
Possible Search strategies for searching the catalog for a book:
Media Violence AND Teenagers
Television AND Violence
Television AND Violence AND Teenagers
Movies AND Aggression
Movies AND Aggression AND Adolescents