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Research and Communication: 2. Info Literacy & Source Evaluation

This guide is primarily for use by 8th grade research students but contains helpful information for all students.

What is Information Literacy?

Information Literacy. Gottesman Libraries, Columbia University,

Once you internalize how to correctly cite information and avoid plagiarism, it becomes necessary to learn how to find and evaluate information for your research. Our starting point on this journey is to learn how to be information literate. Consider the following quote by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization:

Information literacy enables people to interpret and make informed judgments as users of information sources, as well as to become producers of information in their own right. Information literate people are able to access information about their health, their environment, their education and work, empowering them to make critical decisions about their lives, e.g. in taking more responsibility for their own health and education.

In a digital world, information literacy requires users to have the skills to use information and communication technologies and their applications to access and create information. For example, the ability to navigate in cyberspace and negotiate hypertext multimedia documents requires both the technical skills to use the Internet as well as the literacy skills to interpret the information.

Is All Information the Same?

It can be difficult to figure out when to use what type of information or how to even categorize the various types of sources you will inevitably encounter throughout the day. Let's explore the various types of information, otherwise known as "Info Zones," drawing from this great lesson created by the News Literacy Project.

Zone 1: News

Purpose: news is designed to inform an audience. It is verified, fact-based information that is presented without bias.

Examples: Sunday morning weather broadcasts, NPR stories reporting on a congressional meeting, or a CNN article reporting on military deployments.

Zone 2: Advertising

Purpose: advertising is content designed to sell the audience a product or service. This type of content attempts to convince the audience that they need a specific product to make their lives better.

Example: a commercial on Lebron James enjoying Sprite.

Zone 3: Entertainment

Purpose: entertainment is designed to simply entertain an audience. This type of content brings a welcomed distraction to the audience by making them laugh, feel sad, or see their favorite celebrities.

Examples: movies, TV, or music.

Zone 4: Opinion

Purpose: opinion pieces is designed to persuade the audience using factual, reasoned arguments. The creator is biased and uses only selective evidence, but does not distort the factual nature of the evidence.

Examples: an article trying to convince you that Stephen Curry is the best basketball player to have ever lived.

Zone 5: Propaganda

Purpose: propaganda is designed to spread misinformation. This type of content will typically use aggressive language and visuals to provoke an audience into feeling strong emotional reactions rather than reasonable ones.

Examples: World War II posters that use exaggerated images of the opposing forces  to convince people to enlist.

Zone 6: Raw Information

Purpose: raw information documents events that are happening. This type of content is not processed and has zero context surrounding it.

Examples: security camera footage of a house being broken into.

How to Spot "Fake News"

"Fake news" has recently become a politically charged and socially explosive phrase, but it is not a concept that is wholly new. Fake news as defined by the Library of Congress is simply the dissemination of false information, usually with the intent to lead a target audience to act in the interest of the party disseminating the false information. So, how do we spot and counteract fake news? You can start answering that critical question here!

5 Methods of Source Evaluation

Fake news and misinformation are not the only roadblocks to good research. Finding quality information means being able to find appropriate, accurate, well-researched, and timely sources. Here are 6 ways you can help determine if a source meets your specific research needs:

Source Evaluation Checklist

  1. Site modifier: although this one is specific to only website research, understanding what type of website you are using is important. Some types of domain my reveal hidden truths about your source (examples: .gov, .edu, .com).
  2. Authority: evaluate the credentials and qualifications of the author, including the qualification of any studies mentioned in an article itself.
  3. Credibility: evaluate whether the claims in the paper are believable from the outset. Treat this task as an “academic smell test." If something does not smell right when you initially read the material, trust you gut and move on.
  4. Accuracy: evaluate the factual nature of information. Do other legitimate sources confirm the claims and evidence? Always compare information across multiple sources that use a variety of methods.
  5. Currency: evaluate the timing of the information presented. Does the article cite information that is 20 years old? Does that age gap matter for your topic?
  6. Coverage: evaluate the context surrounding the source and its evidence. Is the material complete, partial, or totally without context? Does it provide a pathway to access the original material?

You're Not Alone

Luck for us, there are entire organizations dedicated to helping students and the general public tackle this tough task of debunking bad information! Check out these fantastic websites to help you reach comfort and confidence in your info literacy goals.


"AllSides strengthens our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation." This site displays "the day’s top news stories from the Left, Center and Right of the political spectrum — side-by-side so you can see the full picture."

"We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit 'consumer advocate' for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding."


PolitiFact focuses "on looking at specific statements made by politicians and rating them for accuracy." It is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida, as is PunditFact, a site devoted to fact-checking pundits.

"Snopes got its start in 1994, investigating urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore. Founder David Mikkelson, later joined by his wife, was publishing online before most people were connected to the internet. As demand for reliable fact checks grew, so did Snopes. Now it’s the oldest and largest fact-checking site online, widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and readers as an invaluable research companion."

Washington Post Fact Checker

In an award-winning journalism career spanning more than three decades, Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street. He was The Washington Post’s chief State Department reporter for nine years, traveling around the world with three different Secretaries of State. Before that, he covered tax and budget policy for The Washington Post and also served as the newspaper’s national business editor. This site uses Pinocchio symbols to indicate levels of false information.

Popular vs Scholarly Resources

Evaluating sources is not just a matter of figuring out if someone is lying to you. Researchers must also figure out if the information is appropriate in whatever context they are writing. Are you researching for a long, formal paper for a science class or creating a free-form writing piece for a short history essay? It is important to learn the difference between popular and scholarly sources.