If we are not able to find evidence that a claim was previously fact-checked, or if the work that was done was insufficient for your purposes, we employ our second strategy and search for the source of the information.
Consider this claim on the conservative site the Blaze:
Is this claim true?
We can check the credibility of this article by considering the author, the site, and the date it was last revised; however, it is of little value to start from the Blaze website. Why? Because like many news pages on the web, this one provides no original information. It is just a rewrite of another news story (see below):
The Daily Dot is the originator of this news story, and it is this news site that has collected all the information, presumably fact-checked it, and written the article. It is what we call “reporting on reporting” so there is no point in evaluating the Blaze article.
So what do we do? We go to the original story and evaluate it. When you go to the Daily Dot, you can start asking questions about the credibility of the site or the source. Another good practice is to check out the primary sources used in the Daily Dot news story.
What are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources
There are three types of sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary.It is important to understand these types and to know what type is appropriate for your coursework prior to searching for information.
Primary sources are original documents that were created during the studied period of time. They vary a lot from one field of study to another:
- Humanities: birth or death registries, censuses, correspondences, historic treaties, interviews, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, notarial acts, novels, paintings, period artifacts, photographs, poems, sculptures, statistics, surveys, testimonies, videos, etc.
- Sciences: articles or theses detailing an original study, case notes or observations, clinical exams, conferences, experimental protocols, industrial drawings, lab notes, patents, the periodic table, raw data sets or results, technical reports or forms, etc.
Secondary sources (also called academic sources or scientific sources) are analytical documents that interpret primary sources. Among other things, they include books, electronic resources, memoirs, monographs, peer-reviewed articles, and theses.
Peer-reviewed publications are more reliable than Internet sources (especially when they do not have authors). In fact, Internet sources should be avoided, except for government websites, websites of reputable associations or websites approved by the instructor.
Tertiary sources are descriptive documents that compile or index primary and secondary sources. Among other things, they include bibliographies, encyclopaedic articles, indexes and registers, library catalogues, and specialized databases. Generally speaking, tertiary sources aid in the identification of sources rather than the evaluation of their content.
Suffolk County Community College Library. (2012, June 5). Primary, secondary, & tertiary sources [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Dv3D8q4LZbM
- University of Ottawa Academic Writing Help Centre. (2016). Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources[PDF]. CC BY Licence. https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/awhc-primary-secondary-tertiary-sources.pdf ↵