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COMM 100: Understanding Media

Spring 2016 course guide for COMM 100

Subject Guide

COMM 100: Choosing Quality Resources

Credible, well-chosen resources are the cornerstone of a well-written research paper.

To evaluate the value and credibility of your sources, please review and apply the following five criteria to all of your potential paper sources:

Understanding Authority

Authority is in essence a measure of the experience, knowledge, integrity, and interests of its creator or creators of a source. Knowing who is "behind" a resource is an important factor in its evaluation. By choosing works of high authority, you place your paper in a better position to be respected and understood by other credible figures in your field.

Source: XKCD

Questions to ask yourself:

1.Who is the author of this source?

  • What are his/her academic or professional credentials?
  • What else has this author written?
  • For what audience does this author typically write?

2. Who is the publisher of this source?

  • What company, journal or website published this source?
  • What sort of work does this entity typically publish?
  • Who owns, runs, or helps run this entity?
  • Does this entity edit or review works before publishing them?

Understanding Accuracy

Accuracy is a measure that relates to the quality and verifiability of a source's content -- everything from its core methodology to its written construction. A good source will present its content in a way that is clear and logical, and will encourage others to check the accuracy of its statements through the inclusion of citations or a final bibliography.

image source: XKCD

A work that is poorly constructed on a grammatical level is also suspect for inaccuracy, as grammar can be an important indicator of the dedication of a source's author and/or its publisher.

Questions to ask yourself:

1.What is the accuracy of the author's ideas?

  • Does (s)he cite outside sources when making key arguments?
  • Is the author's research methodology clearly stated, if applicable?
  • Is the overall structure of his or her argument clear and logical?

2. What is the accuracy of the source's written presentation?

  • Does the source include a well-formatted bibliography (or equivalent)?
  • What is the quality and quantity of the works that are cited?
  • Does the source contain many spelling or grammatical errors?

Understanding Currency

Currency measures how "up to date" a source is relative to a given research topic. A potential source may be of the highest authority and accuracy -- but can still be a dubious choice for your research if it was published prior to crucial developments or events in your field of interest. It is also important not to confuse currency with "time" -- as different fields of inquiry develop and change at different rates.

Source: XKCD

Questions to ask yourself:

1.When was the source published?

  • What if any relevant developments does this publication date preceed?
  • How old are the works cited by this source?
  • If it includes links -- do the links still work, or are they broken?
  • Does this source contain any statements or facts that are clearly out of date?

2. Has this source been updated?

  • Does the source indicate that it has been updated or revised since its original release?
  • Does the source indicate whether it will continue to be updated in the future?
  • By whom is this source updated?

Understanding Objectivity

Objectivity is the evaluation of a source's bias(es), including those of its author, publisher, and resarch sponsor. As humans, we all have biases (e.g. "subjectivity"). However, in research it is important for authors to mitigate their biases through the logical presentation of facts and arguments, and through the acknowledgement of different points of view on matters of opinion. When evaluating a source, be sure to consider how it presents and copes with issues of bias -- as well as how such bias might impact your research, if used.

Source: XKCD

Questions to ask yourself:

1.What are the values, views, and biases of this source?

  • What are the subjective values of the author and/or publisher of this resarch?
  • Where does the source acknowledge the author and/or publishers' subjective views?
  • Was there a sponsor for this research, and if so, what might their biases be?
  • Does the author primarily support his/her argument objectively or subjectively?

2. How will the values, views, and biases of this source affect my research?

  • Is the overall level of subjectivity in this source appropriate for my research?
  • Are there likely less subjective sources out there that also have its same strengths as this source?

Understanding Relevance

Relevance is the question of how well the information contained within a source fits the question or argument for which you are considering it. Like currency, the questions of relevance depends very much on your individual research topic. Many researchers have made the mistake of citing resources that are of excellent quality -- but that do nothing to help truly further their research interests. Make sure you choose sources that fill your papers needs, and that are not overly redundant with resources that you have already cited.

Source: XKCD

Questions to ask yourself:

1.How does this source relate to my research?

  • What is the source's thesis and key sub-arguments?
  • What is original or important about this source, that makes it distinct from my other sources?
  • What aspects of this source's argument are tangential or un-related to my research?

2. How will using this source affect my research?

  • What aspects of this source's argument are in conflict with my thesis?
  • What aspects of this source's argument help specifically enhance my thesis?
  • Are there likely to better sources out there than this one, that still serve the same purpose?