Mr. Watson, meet Sherlock Holmes!
Investigating further is one of the most critical steps on the road to evaluating information.
It is a good idea to:
- Examine the sources listed in the resource that you are evaluating (look for a list of cited references or a bibliography); but it would be a mistake to stop there!
- Look beyond the resource at hand to verify or refute information presented.
Here are some good places to start:
1. Follow up:
Obtain a selection of the resource's cited references.
- For books and videos, try the Library Catalog.
- For articles, search for the journal title (not the article title) in the Journal Locator.
- Interlibrary loan may be an option if the library does not provide access to the document that you're seeking.
2. Check outside sources:
Check any facts that appear suspicious by looking for outside articles on the topic at hand. Find out if the information is corroborated or not.
- A good place to begin is the Library's menu of databases.
- Most of these databases are already vetted by academic librarians, so you can expect to find scholarly, peer-reviewed materials. Another place to look for scholarly publications is Google Scholar.
- If you're relying on web pages discovered on the free Web, try using sites that rate pages, like ipl2, the Scout Report, or INFOMINE for some indication of their quality.
3. Find background information:
If you're unfamiliar with a topic addressed by the source you're evaluating, locate background information. If it's a hot topic, a good place to begin might be the CQ Researcher.
The following types of resources might also be consulted:
4. Consult biographies and business information:
Learning about the life and work of the author, chief editor, or publishing executive will inform your assessment of a publication, giving you some idea of the degree of expertise or bias reflected in the work. The library offers a wide selection of tools to help you find biographies.
If you don't yet have the name of the party responsible for disseminating the information, it can be helpful to backtrack through the media ownership chain of command and look for the name of the associated source, organization, company, or director.
A useful tool for discovering who owns what media outlet is the Columbia Journalism Review. The Library's Mergent Online database is useful for investigating corporate affiliations and identifying company executives.
5. Get the lowdown:
If you're researching a controversial topic, and several sources disagree with one another, you'll have to try to get to the bottom of the matter yourself.
Just as a detective interviews witnesses of a crime, you may be able to find firsthand accounts to inform your inquiry.
Examples of primary documents include:
- diary entries
- e-mail messages
- eyewitness newspaper articles
- vital records (such as birth certificates)
- United States Constitution
You can find some primary documents (texts, sound recordings, videos) in the Library's collection, by searching the Library Catalog. When searching the catalog, the following keywords will help you isolate primary resources:
- personal narratives
- sources (this is the most popular term for describing primary works)
Besides looking in the Library catalog, primary source material can be found in the following types of databases available on the Library website: images, legal research, newspapers, statistics, and history, among others.