After investigating the credentials of the author or creator of the information, and the accuracy of the claims they are making, the next step is to investigate their objectives. What did they hope to accomplish by creating the information?
Information is created for many purposes, good and bad. Academic work intends to broaden understanding. Advertisements intend to sell something. Satirical sites intend to amuse. Malicious sites intend to deceive. Partisan pieces intend to convince others or reassure their own side. And so on.
Most of these things aren't bad in themselves, but context is everything. Misunderstanding a hilarious satire as a truth piece can have embarrassing consequences, for instance. (But that satire could be a good source in the right context; after all, I just linked to an Onion piece as an example of a satire, didn't I?)
We must ask ourselves: why was this piece of information created? Consciously thinking about a source's objectives is one of the most important things we can do to to raise our defenses against satire, fraud, and political agendas.
If we're writing an evaluation about a piece of information we found, we should be clear when discussing objectives. See the examples below for strong and weak evaluation examples.
Weak: "This website by the NRA has a purpose of informing the public about guns."
We should acknowledge that the NRA (National Rifle Association) website is probably biased because they strongly support gun ownership with very few restrictions, in most cases. That doesn't mean we can't use the information on the website, but we do need to recognize bias that might exist, and we may need to locate sources that provide an opposing view, or a less biased point-of-view.
Strong: "This is a reliable website because it's a research study, but it was funded by an organization that will benefit from the results, so there may be bias."
Here, we're acknowledging that it's a research study, but also admitting that there might be bias.
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