Category Archives: information credibility

Maximizing quality of research results

Quality means reliable, trustworthy, authoritative sources (part of an information literacy skill set).

Here are tips and tools for the savvy scholar to use to maximize the quality of research:

1. Often the researcher perceives an “information overload”—too much information. This oversupply of information consists of too much seemingly useable information, or too much information that is “noise”—lots of search results, but little relevance. The task often becomes separating the “wheat” from the “chaff”–sorting out the best information.

2. Keep in mind the quality pyramid: as quality increases, the quantity decreases; the highest quality sources will be harder to find at the narrow top of the pyramid; the least reliable information will be more plentiful at the wider base of the pyramid.

3. Starting at the base is all right to familiarize yourself with your issues and topics (newspapers, popular magazines, popular sites), but use the highest-level sources (scholarly) near the top of the pyramid for your final sources of information and cited sources.

4. Use library subscription databases to find peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

5. Use site:.gov and site:.edu searches first in Google and Yahoo! for government and university sources before you use the rest of the free Web.

6. Use search engines that search the “deep Web” (aka “invisible Web”), which has quality information missed by ordinary search engines like Google and Yahoo! Deep Web search engines to use: CompletePlanet.com, IncyWincy.com, and Clusty.com.

7. Use Web subject directories and collections with human-selected compilations of sites organized by topic or searchable by topic: infomine.ucr.edu, bubl.ac.uk, IncyWincy.com, ipl.org, CompletePlanet.com, directory.google.com, dir.yahoo.com

8. Investigating, questioning the information: “trust, but verify.” Don’t blindly or on faith accept even the most authoritative information as the final word. Do other experts or studies agree or disagree, to what extent, and why or why not? How easy is it to corroborate your information or argue its merits? Remember, even the most reliable sources have errors and disputed information (delicious.com/acclibrary/info.credibility).

9. Ultimate truth is elusive, but sound research and reasoning is attainable by employing information literacy and critical thinking. (Critical thinking links: critical-thinking.iste.wikispaces.net/Diigo+Resources)

10. What are the credentials, reputation, and objectivity of the organization or author providing the information? How recent is the information? Analyzing the “source” can be as important as investigating the information itself. Know the criteria to use in evaluating websites: delicious.com/acclibrary/Website.evaluation

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No “about” information on a site

No “about” information!

(Things about websites that may drive you crazy, but can be overcome by a savvy scholar. These same things are also lessons to the wise for mistakes to avoid when you yourself create your own Web content.)

The About information about a site is especially helpful when you discover a site by googling. The “About” link on a website is practically a default, an automatic section of a site that introduces you to the nature of its content. Reading the about may give you some time-saving clues as to how worthwhile it is to explore it further, whether its information will be pertinent or reliable for your information needs. (The same holds true about the “bio” information about the website author or authors.)

It can be frustrating to encounter that occasional site that doesn’t seem to want to tell you anything about itself or its creators. You have to navigate through the site to really get a good idea of what it’s about. It’s even more puzzling and annoying when a major national site of high repute has little or no about information. Does the site think it’s so well-known that no introduction is needed? An about should tell us the purpose and scope of the site, who its founders and contributors are, date of its creation, and so on. Sometimes the only way you can get about information about a site (if it is one of those really prominent ones) is to go to a Wikipedia article on it! I’ve done that quite a number of times when trying to describe a site that I’ve bookmarked in Delicious for the Library or myself.

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Web documents with no date

No date!

(Things about websites that may drive you crazy, but can be overcome by a savvy scholar. These same things are also lessons to the wise for mistakes to avoid when you yourself create your own Web content.)

 

You find some great information. Even scholarly articles posted to the Web by authors who should know better. But nowhere do you find any date attached to when that information was posted or published. So you start to wonder: how recent is this information? Is it outdated? Can I rely on it? Should I bother with it? Is it five months old, or five years old?

Obviously, currency often equals reliability and value, when it comes to information. It is a major criterion for evaluating a source or website. And it drives you crazy when no date is to be found!

Of course, if you’re a savvy scholar, you will find other sources that will have the same valuable information, with clear dates of publication. That should be no problem if (1) you’re willing to put in enough time to do the research, and (2) the topic is not so esoteric that other sources cannot be found.

But always take everything with a grain of salt—even if a date is on a website document, there’s nothing to prevent fraud and dishonesty. It usually doesn’t happen, but keep in mind that it can. And if there is a date on a Web page, is it clear that this is date of the posting of the document or when the whole site was updated?

At any rate, never let your guard down, no matter how great the information may look on the surface. Keep muttering the Reagan mantra—“trust, but verify.” By verifying, that means finding corroborating sources with the best possible credibility and credentials.

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