Oftentimes, when we are seeking information on a topic, we gravitate towards materials that confirm our own biases, thoughts, and feelings about our topic. This isn't true research. Research and learning occur when you step outside your comfort zone, and seek truthful information, even if you disagree with that truth.
Try the IF I APPLY method to evaluate the information you find in your research. It's comprised of two sections; one that will help you understand your own personal biases, and another that will help you evaluate the information you find.
Identify any emotions that you may have attached to your topic.
Find unbiased reference sources that will provide a proper overview of your topic.
Intellectual courage is needed to seek authoritative voices on the topic that may fall outside your comfort zone or thesis.
Research Steps & Questions
Authority: Can you identify a primary author for your source? Does the author have education, experience, and expertise in the field?
Purpose & Point of View: Does the author have an agenda beyond simply providing information and educating folks?
Publisher: Who published the material? Where did they publish it? Does the publisher have an agenda?
List of Sources (or, Bibliography): Is there a bibliography for your source, or a works cited page? Is there reliable evidence in the bibliography, aka good, reliable sources? Are you able to find and access the sources cited?
Year of Publication: What year was your source published in? Does this affect the information in any way? For example, science articles that are ten years old are quite old, but an art historical article of that age is not. What potential events or social issues could have been going on at the time of publication that may have affected the message of the source?
Additional Questions to Ask
In addition to the outline provided by the IF I APPLY Evaluation Model, you can ask the following questions about your sources:
Who wrote the source? Can you find an author or authors listed?
What kind of background does the author(s) have? Try Googling their name, or searching for it in the database you're using - what other kinds of sources have they written?
Who is the publisher of the source? What interests might they have that would shape the way the source is written?
What is the source about? Does the author have the appropriate knowledge or experience to write about the topic? What are their credentials and affiliations?
What information is the author citing? Do they provide references? Can you track down their sources?
When was the source written? Can you find a date anywhere on the source?
For a website, what is the URL? Sometimes you can tell more about a website based on the end of its address (e.g. .edu, .com, .net, etc) but this is not always a reliable indicator of quality information.
Think back to the author of the source, if you found one. What possible motivation could they have for writing the source?
Does the source have a clear message? Does that message align with the author's or website's intentions?
How did you find the source? Through the library, open web, or somewhere else?
How is the source getting its message across? Is it using particularly persuasive language? Why?
How does the source's topic or content align with the larger group or author's mission and identity?