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UGS 302: How to Change the World (Padilla)

Where did they get their information?


In scholarly articles like this one (Ferrante, et al, "PCB levels in adipose tissues. . .", Chemosphere) , it is easy to find out where the author(s) got their information. You just look at the references!

references from scholarly paper

However, most non-scholarly sources are not going to have an organized list of references at the end of the article. Instead they will have embedded links throughout the article. In the following article (Levine, "The majority-black city blocked from electing black officials," The Guardian US), embedded links in red text lead to (in order): legal case file, US Supreme Court brief, local newspaper article, Census Viewer, and a US Census Report.

excerpt from The Guardian newspaper, online ed.

Click (or hover over) the links. What types of sources do they lead to? If it is to other credible sources, then you know this author did their research! If there are no links or if the links lead to "red flag" sources (see below), then you should be wary of using it as a source.


Red Flags

Some sources are red flags. Watch out for:

  • Authors that *only* cite other pages on that website. Doing this sometimes is fine, particularly for very large newspapers like The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but for smaller sites this can mean that they didn't do any real research and just want to cite themselves.
  • Opinion pieces that *only* cite other opinion pieces.
  • Any article that cites memes as sources of facts. Memes are fun and important ways to share information. However, due to their brevity and the speed with which they are typically created, they are not adequate sources of factual information.
  • Authors that misrepresent their sources. You will only discover this if you click through to the actual sources. There are some duplicitous people who will cite reliable sources and then claim that they say something other than what they actually say. In doing this, they are relying on their readers (you) not doing any lateral reading.


Some types of online articles are credible but contain few if any links/sources. These include:

  • Interviews
  • Descriptions of research or creation process
  • Compilations of original work
  • Personal anecdotes

These can still contain good information! Ask your professor or a librarian if you want to use one of these sources but have questions about its credibility.

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