RADARS: A Framework for Recognizing Source Text Reliability and Validity

by , under For teachers, Writing skills

Students can use the RADARS Framework described below to help them recognize, reflect upon, and defend the reliability and validity of the sources of information they use in their own academic and blog writing. With so much clickbait and false reporting being circulated on social media websites these days, writers need to make extra efforts to discuss aspects of the reliability of our sources in our work.

But how is it done? What should we look for?

What aspects of a reference make it reliable and valid?

It is not enough simply to cite sources. If a government report states an uncontroversial fact, is it reliable? Probably. But if it is 100 years out of date, then even reliable information might not be as valid as information in a more recent report.

This is just one example of an aspect of a source text we should look for before repeating the information in it verbatim. What are the other aspects?

A New Framework: RADAR + S

RADAR is an acronym composed of the first letter of each of these words: rationale, authority, date, accuracy, and relevance. I added the S to make RADARS to emphasize the need to check to see if a source cites sources of its own. Each of these aspects of a reliable and valid source is explained below.

Rationale

It is important to know the author’s rationale for writing because books, articles, and web pages are written to serve a purpose. They may have been created for digital marketing purposes to promote the author’s services or products, or they may be frivolous clickbait designed simply to attract readers who will click on ads to generate an income for the website’s owner. Alternatively, the article may have been written to inform and
educate.

Questions to ask about the rationale for the source:

  • Why did the author or publisher publish this information?
  • Is there advertising?
  • Does the author use emotionally provocative language?
  • Does the author include or omit information that would disprove his or her claim?

Authority

Understanding the author’s background is important in judging the credibility of his or her claims. Here is a prioritized list of credible sources:

  1. Government publications or websites (.gov, .gc.ca, etc.)
  2. Peer reviewed research journals
  3. Peer reviewed websites (Wikipedia)
  4. Serious newspapers and magazines
  5. (New York Times, The Economist, etc.)

Questions to ask about the authority of the source:

  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Has the author won awards in his or her field?
  • Is the author affiliated with an educational institution or prominent organization?
  • Can you find information about the author on the internet or cited in other books in the field?
  • Is the article intended as satire? Check the About page.
  • Does the author explain his or her method for collecting the
    information presented?

Date

Is the information current? New scientific information is more credible than research findings from 100 years ago. (The exception is for foundational research that has been supported by further research.) Make sure the information you use to support your claims has not been superseded by new research. Check the date.

Questions to ask about the date of the source:

  • When was the information published?
  • Is there a more recent article on the topic that you can read?
  • Is your topic from a field of study that changes rapidly?
  • Is the information obsolete?

Accuracy

Check your facts. Inaccurate information in your writing undermines your credibility.

Questions to ask about the accuracy of the source:

  • Does your summary or paraphrase contain statements you know to be false?
  • Was the information peer-reviewed or checked by an editor?

Relevance

Make sure that the information you use is relevant. The personal life of a scientist is not relevant in a discussion about the quality of his or her research.

Questions to ask about the relevance of information:

  • Is the information gossip?
  • Does the information answer your research question?

Sources

Look for a reference list containing reputable sources.

Questions to ask about your source’s sources:

  • Does the article cite sources?
  • If yes, are the sources from reputable journals or websites?

Reference

This RADARS Framework is adapted from Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. It is from the peer reviewed Journal Of Information Science, 39, 470-478. (doi:10.1177/0165551513478889)

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