Chapter 10: Sources and Research
What is a Popular Source?
When we say that a source is “popular,” it does not necessarily mean “well liked.”
Popular sources are articles that are written for a general audience. These sources are published so that members of the general public can access, read, and understand the content. There is little jargon or highly specific or technical vocabulary.
Sometimes popular sources are freely available to the public, and sometimes the content is available only with a paid subscription.
Popular sources include newspaper articles, magazine articles, websites, webpages, letters to the editor, blog posts, and more.
Reading Newspaper Articles, Magazine Articles, and Website Articles
“Fake news!” “Media bias!” “Conspiracy theory!”
We hear charges like these often, mostly in reference to the types of popular sources that we can find on the internet, on TV, on the radio, or in print.
These forms of misinformation and disinformation are particularly prevalent on digital platforms where they’re often likely to spread faster than factual reporting. The difference between misinformation and disinformation is a matter of intent: misinformation is simply inaccurate information, whereas disinformation is intentionally misleading.
We’re susceptible to believing and sharing misinformation and disinformation because we tend to unconsciously accept ideas that confirm our worldview, a cognitive process known as confirmation bias.
We should not be tempted to write off all popular sources as somehow “bad.” We should, however, be willing to evaluate any popular source’s authority and credibility before choosing to accept its validity or choosing to include it in an academic assignment.
When evaluating the credibility of a digital source, fact checkers will employ lateral reading techniques. Lateral reading helps you to verify sources while you’re reading them. Lateral readers open another web-browser tab and visit a trusted website (like Wikipedia) to determine the validity of a source they’re currently reading.
We should evaluate newspaper, magazine, and website sources using rhetorical reading skills to understand both the text and its context before incorporating these materials into any assignment.
Understand the Context
Publisher. Who published this article? Remember that a publisher is not always the same as the author of a particular text. Does the publishing source cater to a particular audience? Does the publisher have some sort of ideological identity or bias? A bit of research on who published the article you are looking at (which newspaper, magazine, website, or organization) can give you some insight into any purpose or agenda that may shape the content of the article.
Author. Is the author an expert on the topic? A journalist? Someone who has direct experience with the topic or someone who is offering second-hand commentary or analysis?
Assess the Quality of the Text
Identify the author’s main claim. Pay attention to what the author uses to support his or her claim – do you see relevant, evidence-based support or just emotional examples?
- Do you see statistics used consistently and fairly, with an explanation of where they came from?
- Does the author consider opposing viewpoints, and if so, how thoroughly?
- Do you see logical fallacies in the author’s argument?
Assess the Quality of the Explanation, if the Article is Explanatory
Pay attention to how balanced the author’s explanation is – does he or she present all sides equally so as to avoid clear judgement? Does the author effectively summarize sources used? (Please note that magazine and newspaper writing style does not require the types of in-text citations that we use in our papers).
Depending on the information you are using, the currency of the site could be vital. Check for the date of publication or the date of the latest update. Most of the links on a website should also still work – if they no longer do, that may be a sign the site is too out of date to be useful.
Perhaps the article is interesting or easy to read. But is there something about the text itself or its context that makes it useful for your assignment?