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Evaluating Information: Point of View

A research guide to evaluating print and online resources

Point of View

  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? 
     
    • Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert A. Caro has written four books on President Lyndon Johnson.  The Virginia Historical Review observed in its winter 2003 issue that Caro "does the research for each book by immersing himself in the documentary record, conducting hundreds of interviews, and living for months or years in places that he feels he must experience personally in order to make sense of his subject."
       
    • Anne Frank's Diary: A Hoax was published by the Institute for Historical Review in 1979. Although this publisher may seem like a scholarly organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center writes that its purpose is "to promote Holocaust denial and defend Nazism."
       
  • If the work is a website, who maintains it?  Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Sometimes you can readily discern the purpose of a work and obtain clues to its reliability and / or objectivity: 
     
    • A tilde (~) in the URL usually indicates that the web page is a personal one and not part of an institutional website.  The personal home page of a professor of political science at the University of Chicago is http://home.uchicago.edu/~jpadgett.
       
    • Researchers should pay attention to the domain section of each URL. For example:
       
      • .edu (educational).  Could refer to a university's home page, such as Mary Washington's www.umw.edu, or a student or professor's personal home page: http://www.econ.yale.edu/~shiller/.
         
      • .com (commercial). Originally for just commercial organizations (e.g., www.jcpenney.com) but now used non-commercially and by individuals as well, including author John Grisham at www.jgrisham.com.
         
      • .gov (governmental). For example, the official web page for the Commonwealth of Virginia is http://virginia.gov.
         
      • .org (organization). Most organizations have distinct agendas, which reflect the opinions (and possible personal, political, religious, cultural, or other biases) of their members.
         
  • All authors have their opinions and points of view, but you may want to acknowledge these perspectives and balance them with alternative viewpoints and interpretations.