How to tell if a source is accurate or bad

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” – W. Edwards Deming

We’ve noticed that a lot of people share articles about subjects that interest them. That is good to see, however, many of them seemed to overlook the methodology and the accuracy of the authors that wrore these articles. Also, since the fall semester is starting for many students across the world, many of them will have to write research papers and finding the right sources can cause a serious headache for many.

research-1For some, especially the ones with the proper training, finding out if an article is genuine is common sense. For others, it can be very hard to figure out, especially considering the authors can be clever and use convincing terminologies to get their point across without necessarily saying the truth.

To figure that out, we decided to show the 5 main factors that you should look for when figuring out wether the article or paper you are reading is accurate or misleading.

1. Does the article have the name of the author displayed?

This is a no-brainer, but you can be surprised at how many people completely overlook this factor when reading online content. When an article doesn’t have the name of the author, it shows that he is trying to hide, often from possible criticism from a lack of reliability. One can argue that anonymousity is important in the internet, and that is true. However, when publishing a paper with important content, an author must identify himself to attest the the accuracy of his work. It allows the reader to look up the author and read his other works, so he can get the righr idea about him. While not every piece of anonymous work is bad, many are very biased and lack accuracy in terms of research. This is why most Universities out there will decline sources from anonymous authors.

2. Is the author neutral in his positions and affirmations?

A lot of articles out there involve authors that take sides, and that is even present in mainstream media papers where we see very conservative or liberal writers publishing work. When an author isn’t neutral, it shows that he adopted a partisan approach. That means he will be tempted to say and claim anything to make his position look better than the one of his ideological rivals. Partisanship is detrimental to accurate work, and often leads to biased positions that will only alter the content into an amateurish form. The only only cases where the author can take sides is when he can back his position with reliable sources and solid research, opinions are not facts. However, many journalists, bloggers, and writers who take sides often cannot defend their position with sources, which makes their work a personal opinion rather than an illustration of facts. This makes them a very bad source to use for research, content writing, as well informational purposes. Before using a journalist as a reference for your own work, make sure that this journalist has an ethical approach when it comes to finding and using his sources. The following point will go more in detail about an author’s sources.

3. Is the author relying on proper sources for his work ?

Believe it or not, even some experienced writers out there go soft when it comes to backing up their statements with reliable sources. Why would they do it ? Because as soon as the source in question validates their claims, they will see it as acceptable and include it in their work. However, many sources, albeit looking convincing, can have very biased and inaccurate. A good way to see if his sources are legitimate is to look at their form: Are they from a blog ? Are the statistics from trusted sources or anonymous sources ? Do they come from a source that often posts partisan/propaganda content (Marxist or Far-right websites are a good example), Is it written properly or full of mistakes ? All these factors can help you figure out wether the author is taking a caring approach to publish good and reliable work or botch his way out just to generate easy traffic to his platform.

4. Is the author’s bibliography complete ?

Another important point, especially for the people publishing academic or research papers, is the bibliography. Such small detail can make or break the credibility of your work, and it is very crucial that they put in a lot of work to make it good by today’s standards. If you want to use another author’s paper as your source, make sure he has an updated bibliography which comes with the proper dates, author names, editors, and cities. Without those informations, it is hard to verify that this author’s research sources are reliable, and this can be unforgiving when trying to make a relevant research paper. This process should take less than 5 minutes to verify and it could save you quite a lot of troubles.

5. How was the author financed for his research ?

Did he get his funding from a political party ? A corporation ? A philanthropist ? Fundraising ? This is a point that can give a great idea on how biased the author is in his positions. If you are reading a funded research paper, the funding source should be identified in the paper. Assuming that it is not visible, this should be considered a redflag considering the fact that the author is trying to keep his funding source secret. If the author is financed by a source that has minimal interest in the results, then the chances of the author being biased in his positions are less likely to occur. This criteria is extremely important for those trying to produce academic/medical/scientific research work. Funding coming from political or corporate sources are more likely to result in highly biased research and statistics, so make sure you avoid including them as sources for your work. However, private donations for medical and scientific research in Universities can also be seen as good things, for example cancer research, since the results don’t matter to the funders but rather the way the money is used: Which isfinding a cure or fixing a problem. Use your judgement when looking at the funding sources.