Who is saying what to whom, why and when?
You may use these five questions as your starting point:
- Who is saying it?
- What is being said?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is the purpose of saying it?
- When is it being said?
Who is saying it?
Who is the author? Is there an explicit author or publisher? Try estimating their authority in the field:
- If there is an author/editor:
- Is the person well-known in their field?
- Is it a researcher, a journalist or something else?
- Is the author/editor connected to a college or university?
- What else has the author/editor published?
- Is the author cited in other publications?
Is the information about the author/editor missing? In that case, you should try to find information about the publisher:
If it is an authority, institution or organization:
- What are the goals, the assignment and the purpose of the organization?
If there is a publisher:
- What is the publisher’s main focus?
- Is the publisher known for publications in this particular field?
If your source is found on a website without an obvious originator:
- Try decoding the URL. Can you decipher the domain and the country code?
- Who has created the site? Is it an organization, a seat of learning, a company or an individual?
- Is there any contact information?
- What other sites link to this website, and what other sites does this website link to?
What is being said? – Credibility and evaluation
Are the contents credible? Are the facts correct and is the text objective? Does the text have in-text referencing and a reference list? How well does the source cover the subject area?
- If the material refers to factual information found in other sources, go to the primary source to check the information.
Movie - Primary and secondary sources (5:18)
- Is the publication peer-reviewed?
Who is the target audience?
For whom is the material written? Who is the target audience and does the source fit your purpose?
- Is the target audience researchers, students, elementary or high school students or the general public?
- Is it an academic text or is it popular science or some other genre? Keep in mind that an author can write different types of texts.
- How can the material be relevant and useful for you? Choose your sources according to your current need for information. Do you need the source for a debate article or do you need literature for the background chapter of a thesis?
What is the purpose of saying it?
What is the purpose of the text? Is it to present research, to inform, debate, present a point of view, market a product, provoke or perhaps entertain?
- Whose interests are presented in the source?
- Are there any financial, political or religious interests that may affect the contents?
- Is the text written in an objective or a subjective way?
- Does the text present facts or is it an expression of the writer’s own opinions?
- Are the facts correct?
- Do any other reliable sources present contradicting information?
When is it being said?
Is the information current – and does it have to be?
- When was the material produced?
- Could any facts be out-of-date?
- Could more recent research exist that affects or contradicts your source?
- Is the material limited to a certain period of time?
- Is there a newer edition?
- Check the year of publication or, if it is a website, when the information was updated.
- How has society changed since the text was written – and could this affect the way a historical event is described?
- If you have found the information online – check carefully if it is an unchangeable source (such as an e-book, a report, a journal article, dissertation or thesis) or if your source is found on a website that can be changed or removed.