What hides in my cupboard (WordRidden, 2005)

The sources that we use and cite at university are as important as the words we write and the arguments that we present.  Without reliable sources of information, we’re adrift in a sea of maybes and half-truths.  This becomes even more important when we’re continually being advised to watch out for ‘fake news’.

The fake news phenomenon is nothing new however, and its origins can be traced back to the early days of mass produced newspapers, with many conspiracy theories and urban myths that people still believe today springing from this time.  You can watch a really entertaining BBC documentary about this called ‘Ian Hislop’s Fake News’ on Box of Broadcasts, (just type ‘Box of Broadcasts’ into Library Search and sign in with your university IT username and password).

Finding reliable information beyond your reading list can be compromised by the need to find the right information.  In other words it’s often the case that someone will pick a source that gives them a perspective on a topic which fits their argument without thoroughly checking its validity, or plausible alternative perspectives and explanations.

Of course sometimes we actually want to show information which is biased or wrong to illustrate a point, so the appropriateness of the information that you use will change according to what you are working on.  

For some tips on how to check whether the source that you are using is reliable, read through our advice on evaluating information. Think about whether the author is an expert or has access to relevant information and data. Are the facts presented within the source consistent and back each other up, and if there is any discrepancy is this explained? Are there lots of minor errors such as layout, grammar and spelling? These may not make the information contained within the source less credible, but are a good indication that less time, effort or people have been involved in creating and checking the source.

In the end, there is no substitute for your own ability to measure and compare different factors when evaluating how useful and valid a source is and whether it is appropriate for you to use, but hopefully your time at university will help you to develop and apply this skill in academia and in other contexts too.

References

WordRidden. 2005. What hides in my cupboard. [Online]. [Accessed 9 February 2021]. Available from: https://www.flickr.com