Evaluating, or Analyzing, Sources
last revised 2/4/08
You shouldn't just read and use a source as if it's giving you the God's Honest Truth. If you are writing for a complex or scholarly audience, and if you are yourself thinking complexly, you must evaluate your sources and include some of those evaluations in your writing (always site sources and always comment on sources). In a nutshell, a good evaluation, or analysis, will break a source down into a number of parts using certain lenses or ideological/theoretical points-of-view, and then synthesize the meaning of these parts into a larger idea or critique or interpretation (of course the metaphor of lenses implies you can take them off or put them on at will, but that isn't necessarily the case).
What are possible lenses you use to read, interpret, and critique things (how might we define these lenses, and where do you fit)?
Your Identity Laundry List (your personal background)--ethnicity/place; sex/gender; socioeconomic past and present; education; religion or lack (see Christiane Amanpour's CNN report on God's Warriors); sexuality; age; ability
Your "scholarly" theoretical POV (college or scientific theoretical philosophies)--Marxism, Capitalism, Socialism; Ayn Rand; feminism, eco-feminism, deconstruction theory, Queer theory; Freudianism; Plato, Aristotle, Decartes (deductive logic), Hegel, Nietzsche; Rhetoric (see "Scholarly" Evaluation" below), Toulmin logic; Chaos Theory, String Theory, Heisenberg's Quantum Theories, E=MC2...
Your pop culture identity? What band is so you? What brand is so you? See The Persuaders...
Of course I also want you thinking about things with Rhetorical lenses--think of the source's PAGS (purpose, audience, genre, style; you can go back to some of my rhetorical analysis questions at http://research.uvsc.edu/mortensen/1010/assignments/readingrhetorically.html ).
You can use the lenses of logic which involve fallacies (part of logic) to evaluate your sources (see Prentice Hall p. 37-38, or try the more extensive list at the fallacy files, http://www.fallacyfiles.org/ ). Of course you must combine this with PAGS--is your source using fallacies with a specific purpose in mind (to entertain, enrage)? Or is it truly being sloppy in it's logic?
Sometimes you may have to begin by merely understanding what the sources is saying, so attempting to do an "accurate" or fair summary can be a good place to start.
In the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing (603-05), it tell us to look at four areas when thinking about sources:
Scholarly Evaluation Grid
|Angle of Vision||Degree of Advocacy||Reliability||Credibility|
|underlying beliefs or values, assumptions; author affiliations (background or connections); warrants or lenses (identity and ideology lists)||extent to which the author takes a persuasive stance; do they seem "objective" or less biased sounding? or do they sound very biased? this has close ties to Credibility||accuracy of factual data based primarily on external validation--how accurately is the author using outside sources or facts? how much distortion is there of these outside sources? how credible are the outside sources themselves?||internal; can the reader trust the writer's honesty and goodwill (ethos)? what's the tonal spin, and how much of it is there? this has close ties to Degree of Advocacy|
You can also think about your source in terms of political bias by comparing it to any of the following publications/media and/or commentators (according to the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing; keep in mind that with newspapers and magazines, you might only be able to see it's slant in the op ed pieces):
|FAR LEFT||LEFT LIBERAL||LEFT CENTER||RIGHT CENTER||RIGHT CONSERVATIVE||FAR RIGHT|
|U.S. News and World Report;
The Wall Street Journal;
Ted Koppel (ABC);
Will (Washinton Post);
William F. Buckley;
...And where do you fit in this list?