Written by Justin Hall
In this modern digital age, where it has become incredibly easy for anyone to post their opinions online, it can sometimes be hard for academics, specifically students, to tell which information resources are credible and fact-based. “The ubiquitous nature of the Internet enables anybody to spread false and biased information easily.” (Hansraj et al., 2021, p. 2) However, there are several clues a reader can use to tell if an article is on the up-and-up.
One of the easiest methods a user can rely on to tell if an article is trustworthy is whether or not it is peer-reviewed. Peer-review means that the article has been looked over by other experts in the field before it was submitted to the greater academic community for viewing. When an article is peer-reviewed it automatically makes the article more trustworthy because the professionals who have reviewed it have checked the contents for accuracy and relevance to the field of study. We can usually trust that peer reviewed articles are legitimate because authorities in a field of study want to maintain the integrity of their chosen discipline. This means that they will go the extra mile to weed out any inaccuracies or articles of general poor- quality. Still, even the experts of a discipline are susceptible to error, which means peer-reviewed articles can sometimes be inaccurate or misleading. This means students need to go the extra mile when searching for and choosing trustworthy articles.
Once you have a good list of peer-reviewed articles to choose from, you can start to looking at the content of the articles themselves. Most articles will have clues hidden within their content that give an idea of whether or not the article can be considered trustworthy. One thing we should be on the lookout for when reading an article is the tone. Many unreliable articles may seem trustworthy at first because they have a persuasive tone that attempts to bring the reader over to their way of thinking. However, a reader must be vigilant in these situations and determine how and why they are being persuaded by an article.
For example, an article that is full of factual statements that can easily be cross checked through other reliable sources will likely be persuasive to a reader. On the other hand, a dogmatic article that uses emotions to sway a reader may also be very persuasive, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the article is factual. When choosing articles to use for their research, users must consider what the author is attempting to achieve in their article and how they go about reaching this goal. There is nothing wrong with a persuasive article. However, students must ensure that articles they choose for their research use facts and logic, rather than opinions and emotion.
Another way to gauge the reliability of an article is by ascertaining the authority of the author and publisher. For instance, a reader can investigate to see whether or not the author has any other credits to their name. If an author is well-known or has been published by reputable distributors in the past, this is a good indicator that they are more likely to be trustworthy. Likewise, if the reader has never heard of an author before or finds it hard to find any background information on the publisher then they should be wary of an article’s credibility. “Authority implies a neat positive or negative evaluation of a source’s author but tends to encourage a reductive focus on the absence or presence of specific academic or professional credentials and work experience”. (Elmwood, 2020, p. 278) Authors who have been through the research publishing process before are more likely to be credible. This is because they are less likely to put out disinformation that could tarnish the good reputation they have built over time. In the same vein, if the article cites other well-known authors or is backed by a well-known publisher it can strongly indicate that the author has done their research and can be viewed as more reliable source.
Unfortunately, there is no one way to tell if an article is trustworthy. However, by using all of these methods in tandem when checking the reliability of an article, users have a much stronger chance of choosing reliable and trustworthy articles.
Elmwood, V. (2020). The journalistic approach: Evaluating web sources in an age of mass disinformation. Communications in Information Literacy, 14(2). https://doi.org/10.15760/comminfolit.2020.14.2.6
Hansrajh, A., Adeliyi, T. T., & Wing, J. (2021). Detection of online fake news using blending ensemble learning. Scientific Programming, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/3434458