Part 1: Evaluating Information Online

Research Process

A drawing of the research process steps starting with Get Assignment, then Topic, then Understand, then Analyze, then Complete, and finishing with Evaluate.

With your GEL professor, you learned about the scholarly research process and how to use that to conduct research for your classes while you’re at CSUSM. In this lesson, we are focusing on the ‘evaluating information’ part of this process. With so much information available through different sources (websites, newspapers, magazines, journals) and not all of it equally credible it is important to know how to think critically about the various aspects of an information source.

We will be learning about a method called VQE, which includes three levels of evaluation:

1. Visual: surface level
2. Quality: just below the surface
3. Ethos: deep dive

Whether you know it or not, you engage in these levels of information pretty frequently -- every time you meet a new person, read something on the internet, or any other time you encounter a piece of new information.

Let’s use the analogy of water sports to see how we can apply the Visual Quality Ethos method of information evaluation:

Visual - on the surface

This is very quick, at a glance evaluation. Evaluating information visually is only sufficient when it doesn’t matter what source you use (e.g. argument with friends, where the Starbucks is, general knowledge).

Image of a person on a jet ski with the questions: What is it? Who created it?

Things that you can quickly notice visually on source:

  • Date - when was it published, update times listed, date relevance?
  • Title - does it contain emotional cues?
  • Grammar/Spelling - are there any errors?
  • General topic
  • Ads/Pop ups
  • Author - is a name or organization mentioned?

Quality - below the surface

This level of evaluation is about determining credibility, basic purpose, content. This is the minimum level of evaluation for any source you want to use in college, whether it is for a class discussion, or for a more formal assignment.

Image of kayakers in the background and an otter in the foreground with the questions: Where do they get their information? Who is the intended audience?

Image of a snorkeler with a big fish in the foreground with the questions: How was the information created? How was the information reviewed?

Things that you might need to dig a little deeper to find out about a source’s quality:

  • Author/Organization/Credentials - Do they have the “right to write” about the topic? Credentials could mean education or experience - give examples of both.
  • References Listed - Where is the author/org getting their information?
  • Verify information with another source?
    • Do a quick Google search. Can you find this information easily?

Ethos - deep dive

Ethos in this case is referring to its “ethical appeal” -- what are they trying to convince you of, and why? When we try to evaluate the ethos of a source, we need to dig really deep and ask “big” questions.

Image of a diver next to a reef with the questions: Why does the information exist? How does it make you feel? Who funds the site? What bias does it have?

Things you can ask yourself to determine the ethos of a source:

  • What is the purpose?
  • Does it make you feel anything (note emotions while reading)?
  • Where does the funding come from?
  • Is there bias (one side favored over the other, especially in an unfair way)? Is only one side of the topic presented?


Now that you’ve learned this method of information evaluation -- Visual-Quality-Ethos -- let’s try it out on a couple of sample websites.

Next - Proceed to 1A. Activity: Evaluating Websites and complete those exercises to try it out.