How Can One Tell if Information Is Credible?

by Lee Grayson

The amount of information collected by people each day makes it difficult to quickly determine the quality of information. Listeners and readers frequently don't have the ability to determine credibility by comparing information with what is commonly known about the subject. This means taking time to evaluate the message in a more formal way. The Purdue University Writing Lab defines source "credibility" as the combined elements of reliability, accuracy and trustworthiness.

Consider the Source

The source of the information provides important clues for determining the credibility of the message. Media sources with solid reputations for credible information include those hiring trained professionals to collect information and report the stories. The length of time spent providing information, number of staff and editorial policy helps readers evaluate the message. One way to determine source credibility is to evaluate the purpose of the information. Sources making formal statements supporting one position or political party typically shape the message to promote the cause, while neutral sources attempt to report information using an unbiased approach. Another quick way to review trustworthiness includes looking for formal peer review of the information by experts in the field.

Analyze Qualifications

The qualifications and training of the source helps determine credibility. Sources without formal training typically have less experience compared with information from trained people. The most valuable information comes from trained and experienced sources with a formal education degree in the field of the message. A professional football player, for instance, has valuable insights about the sport, but lacks credibility to make statements about the best way to manage the economy. Credible sources, for example, include science information from a government agency focused on science research. Medical information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically has greater credibility than material presented on science segments for local television broadcasts.

Source Comparison

Publisher Allyn and Bacon recommends determining the quality of information by comparing the material with the content of other sources covering the same topic. When information differs from all other sources, you need to do additional investigation to ensure the validity of the original information. Advanced searches include doing more than one validity test, such as locating the original source of research materials. Reprinting, translation from one language into another and unintentional mistakes create additional information-credibility problems. Sources occasionally intentionally manipulate information to change the original message. This eliminates all credibility for the specific information, and also reduces the validity of the source as valid in reporting on any topic.

Evaluate Methodology

The term "methodology" refers to the way the writer or source collected information and the process used to interpret the material. Typically, the most credible information lists the methodology in the article, but limited space for print information means the methods used to develop the information are available only on a related website or in a secondary publication. Credible original material, however, should give the reader directions to find the methodological information. Valid information is timely and credible sources note the date of the research and also the date of the reporting.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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