Written by Dr. Hannes Nel
Did you notice how many experts of all shapes and sizes post videos on the internet in which they predict the end of the world?
Some of them even give a date and time for the ultimate catastrophe.
And when it does not happen, they simply shift the date.
Do you believe them?
And if you do, what criteria should they meet for you to regard them as trustworthy prophets of doom?
I discuss the requirements for accuracy and authenticity of data in this video.
The internet can be a valuable source of information. However, people doing research need to be careful when using information obtained from internet sources. Any individual can upload information on the internet and all web site hosts are not equally responsible when it comes to accepting contributions. All information that you use in your research should be corroborated. This is an important consideration because electronic documents are not always quality assured, and documents are sometimes distributed electronically because publishers are not interested in them.
The accuracy an authenticity of information can be evaluated by checking the following:
- Checking the author.
- Checking the purpose.
- Checking for objectivity.
- Checking for accuracy.
- Checking for reliability and credibility.
- Checking for coverage.
- Checking for currency.
- Checking links.
Checking the author. You can check personal homepages on the World Wide Web, campus directory entries and information retrieved through search engines to find relevant information about an author. You can also check print sources in the library reference area and other biographical sources, for information such as the following:
- Is the name of the author/creator on the page?
- Is the page signed?
- Are his/her relevant profile and credentials listed, including occupation, years of experience, position or education? Stated differently, is the author suitably qualified to write on the given topic?
- Is there contact information, such as an email or web site address on the page?
- If there is a link to a web site address, is it for an individual or for an organisation?
- What is the relationship of the author with the organisation, if the address is that of an organisation, for example a university or consulting company?
Checking the purpose. It is often easier to judge the contents of a source if you know for what purpose the article was written. Also check for whom the article is intended.
Checking for objectivity. Objectivity is a prerequisite of any research. Even so, political and social issues are strong temptations to misuse and misinterpret information to fit a particular agenda. The following questions can be used to check if your interpretation of data is objective or not:
- Is there any indication if the information is claimed to be factual, just the opinion of an individual, or the propaganda of a body with ulterior motives, for example a political body, radical or religious group?
- Judging from the formulation and tone of the document, does the author’s point of view appear to be objective and impartial or not?
- Is the language and tone in which the document is written free of or loaded with emotional words and bias?
- Is the author affiliated with an organisation, the values and objectives of which might render the information biased and subjective?
- Is the document free of or cluttered with advertisements or sponsored links?
Checking for accuracy. Accuracy can mean different things to different people, depending on which paradigmatic approach you follow. However, data and the interpretation of data need to be valid, authentic, free of deliberate, accidental or coincidental misrepresentations and logical, to be of value for research purposes. The following questions can be used to check the accuracy of data and your research findings:
- Are the sources of factual information clearly and accurately acknowledged so that the information can be verified?
- Is it clear who has the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content of the material and is the profile of this individual or group of experts known?
- Is the information corroborated by other sources or can you verify the information from your own knowledge?
- Has the information been reviewed or referred by an individual or group of experts with the necessary knowledge to conduct professional evaluation?
- Has the document been written on an acceptable academic level and is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?
Checking for reliability and credibility. Reliability and credibility go hand in hand with accuracy. Reliable information is information that is consistently the same over time and across at least the target group for the research, although it should ideally be the same in as wide a context as possible. Credibility is dependent on the authenticity, accuracy and trustworthiness of the data and research findings. You, as the researcher, will be responsible for credibility, which means that you will need to conduct the research in an accountable, honest and ethical manner. Reliability and credibility can be checked by asking and answering the following questions:
- Why should anyone believe information from this source?
- Judging from the content and layout, does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it written in an unstructured manner and inaccurately supported or not supported at all by evidence of authenticity?
- Has the document been published by a publisher with a good reputation for only publishing quality content that has been checked for accuracy, authenticity and objectivity?
- Are quotations and other strong statements or claims backed by sources that you could check through other means, and are the sources acknowledged where the statements or claims are made?
- Which university, college, research experts or scientists support or endorse the information?
- Do the university, college, research experts or scientists who support or endorse the information have a good reputation as being objective and an authority in the field of the document?
- Is the electronic material also available in hard (book or magazine) format?
Checking for coverage. Coverage refers to the notion of saturation. Your research findings should not be biased or rendered inaccurate because you did not consult enough, or the wrong sources of information. Although the extent of research is always limited by factors such as capacity, available time, funds, and the co-operation of members of the target group, you should at least achieve the purpose of your research. Coverage can be checked by asking and answering the following questions:
- Is the information relevant to the topic of your research?
- Does the document have information that is not available elsewhere?
- How in-depth is the material?
Checking for currency. The most important factor determining currency is, of course, recency. The more recent the information that you collected is, the more accurate, valid and relevant will your research analysis and findings be. Currency can be checked by asking and answering the following questions:
- Is the document reviewed regularly by someone who has the relevant knowledge and skills?
- Does the document or posting show when it was originally written, when and how often it was reviewed and when it was last reviewed?
Checking links. Each web site should be checked independently because the quality of web pages linked to the original web page may vary. This can be done by asking and answering the following questions:
- Are the links related to the topic of the document and are the web sites that are linked articulated to the purpose of the site and the content of the document?
- Are the links still current, or have some or all of them been deactivated or simply abandoned?
- What kinds of other sources are linked and are they in any way related to the contents and purpose of the document in which you are interested?
- Are the links maintained, evaluated and reviewed and do they show growth in terms of traffic volume, quality of content and the user-friendliness and professional and attractive layout of the sites?
Anybody can post data on the internet. Therefore, you need to be careful when using such data in your research.
The accuracy and authenticity of information can be evaluated by checking the following:
- The author. The author should be a known and reputable authority in the field of study. Also, the author should be acknowledged in the data source that you consult.
- The purpose of the data source. The data source should be relevant to your research topic.
- Objectivity. Be wary of articles, videos and other data source on the internet that were posted with ulterior, possibly damaging motives in mind.
- Accuracy. Data must be valid, authentic, free of misinterpretation and logical.
- Reliability and credibility. Data should be consistently the same over time and context.
- Coverage. Data should answer at least part of your research question and add value to your thesis or dissertation. On doctoral level the data should lead to new and improved knowledge.
- Currency. Data must still be relevant to the field of your research.
- Links. Quality data will mostly be shared and supported by more than one authority in the field of study. The more academic web pages deal with the topic and agree with the arguments, the more likely it is to be valid, authentic, accurate and recent.
You will ultimately be responsible for the quality of data that you collect and use in your thesis or dissertation.
You will also be accountable for the way you use the data.
It serves no purpose checking the accuracy and authenticity of the data that you collect if you bend the meaning of the original author to serve your purpose.
Or if you use accurate data to achieve ulterior, damaging motives.
As with all data that you collect and use, ethics is a critically important requirement for your research.
Enjoy your studies.