While at school or university, you’ll probably find yourself doing a lot of searching for information, whether it’s to write an assignment, answer a quiz, or just learn more about a subject you’re interested in. And the internet has undoubtedly made access to all this information so much easier – but at the same time, how can you know what you’re reading is accurate?
It’s important to use accurate and reliable information during your studies, and it’s also important to keep a critical mind when reading news and watching videos online too. In this blog, we’ll go through some tips to help you find accurate information, not just for your studies, but for everyday life too.
Evaluating information – academic sources
So, you’ve found a great book, website, or video – how do you know if it’s OK to use in your assignment? One way you can evaluate your source is by using the CRAP (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose) test.
The first thing to consider is how recent the information is. Think about:
- When was it published, or for a website, when was it last updated?
- Do I need to use up-to-date information for my assignment?
- Have views on my topic changed since this information was published?
If you’re doing an assignment on Ancient Egypt, for example, using historical sources and information is going to be totally OK. But if you’re writing about how businesses can use social media, you’ll probably want more recent information.
Next, think about whether or not the information is reliable. Ask yourself:
- Who published this information, and where?
- Does the information include references I can check?
- Are there lots of spelling and grammatical errors?
Using the example above, if you’re looking for information on Ancient Egypt, a textbook from your school’s library is likely to have reliable information; a random website you’ve found on the internet may not.
If you know the author of the information, how can you be sure they know what they’re talking about? Consider:
- What are the author’s qualifications or experience?
- Is this person considered an expert in their field?
- Does the author have affiliations with any groups or institutions?
So if you find an article on the internet about Ancient Egypt, and can see that it has been written by a university professor who specialises in Egyptian history, this information is likely to be accurate.
Finally, think about the reason why this information exists, and how this can affect its accuracy. Think about:
- Who is the intended audience for this information?
- Was this made to inform, sell, persuade, or entertain?
- Is there obvious bias, or is this heavily opinion-based?
Using our original example, a dramatised documentary about life in Ancient Egypt is probably not going to be entirely accurate – it’s mostly made for entertainment.
Evaluating information – informal sources
You’ve just stumbled across a video on TikTok revealing some shocking information! Before you panic and share it with all your friends, take a second to stop and think first. How can you tell whether or not this information is true? The best way is to use the SIFT method. This requires a bit more active searching and thinking, but it’s definitely worth it.
Don’t immediately rush out and tell everyone you know all about what you heard or saw, or launch into a tirade in the comments. Take a breath first and think – what do I know about the person telling me this information? Do I know anything about the source of this information? If it seems a bit suspicious, then chances are it probably is.
Investigate the source
If you can, do a bit of research into the person or organisation that published or presented the information. Who are they, and what are their qualifications? Are they knowledgeable on this topic? Do they seem to have any obvious bias or strong opinions?
Find trusted coverage
Look for multiple different articles, videos, or points of view on the topic – preferably from official or reliable sources. Are there other people out there saying conflicting things? What does the consensus seem to be on the subject? Even if you can’t find one definitive answer, reading different opinions and perspectives (regardless of whether you agree with them) can provide context.
Trace it back to the source
It turns out the TikTok you saw is based on a Tweet, which was responding to a Facebook post, which was cross-posted from a news website. Go back to the original source (the news article) and read it in full. Does what you saw in the TikTok actually appear in the original article? Or has it just been taken so far out of context it’s not even close?
Finding accurate information
Good research and critical thinking skills won’t just serve you well during your studies – they’re important for everyday life too. Being able to find accurate information can help you avoid fake news and misinformation.
Find heaps more study tips on our website here.