Purpose and Perspective

Purpose – Understanding the intended purpose of an information source can tell you a lot about its research value.  The general format and tone of a source will often tell you whether material was created to:

  • inform or educate
  • misinform or propagandize
  • entertain
  • persuade
  • sell something

Perspective – Unless you are examining the conflicting viewpoints on an issue, or conducting primary source research on propaganda campaigns, you want all of your information to be as objective as possible and free of the biases generated by strong emotions, belief systems and conflicts of interest. To determine how objective or biased the information may be, look for:

  • potential political or financial gains for the author
  • indications that the author’s affiliations (working for a company, belonging to a religious or political group, etc.) have influenced the way material is presented
  • signs of personal prejudices, stances and causes on the part of the author
  • emotionally-charged language
  • misuse of statistics or other information (e.g., using information out of its original context)
  • pseudo-scientific or pseudo-scholarly statements
  • logical fallacies

Detect mistakes and deceptions

  • Visual Study Guide to Cognitive Biases – an easy way to learn the ways we fool ourselves (and try to fool each other.) Navigation (and zoom in) features are in the strip at the bottom of the screen.
  • Critical Thinking Model – a great interactive tool for guiding you through the kinds of questions you should ask yourself at every step of research or decision making.
  • Baloney Detection Kit – a set of questions to ask in determining whether what you’re looking at is real or pseudoscience.
  • How To Understand Statistics – a tutorial in how to detect when statistics are being misused.
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    a brief course in information literacy