Source analysis

The concept of responsible conduct of research entails the critical evaluation of sources and respecting the rights of the creators of any sources used in the research.

When you have found the publications that you think will be useful to you, it is time for their critical evaluation. The purpose of source analysis is to draw conclusions about the reliability of the author of the information and the information itself, as well as their worth as source material.

The level of reliability varies according to the type of source; the level is high in doctoral theses and articles that have been refereed for academic publication, while the level is not very high in e.g. articles in popular magazines and web pages. Scientific journals use peer review to ensure the scientific quality of articles. Peer review consists of several steps where independent experts assess whether the manuscript is fit for publication, provide suggestions for improvements, and support the journal in deciding whether to publish or not.

You can consider how reliable the material is and how valuable the source by answering the following questions:

  • What information does the author give about him/herself?
  • Has the author published other works on the same subject?
  • What is the author’s background organisation and what are its views on the subject?
  • Who has funded or sponsored the research or publication?
  • When was the material published / is it up to date?
  • To whom is the material directed / does the material have a specific target audience?
  • Does the material list sources used?
  • Why has the material been made; what was the purpose of producing it and its academic goal?
  • Is the material well-written and does the language contain the terminology appropriate for the subject?
  • is the material comparable with other material on the same subject and to what you already know about the subject?

You need to be especially careful when analysing sources on the open web; since the Internet is a channel that is open for everyone, the contents and their reliability are not necessarily checked at all. Take at least the following points into consideration when evaluating information from the open web:

  • Reliability of the contents: how are the statements in the material argued and are any sources or links presented for checking the facts?
  • Objectivity: where is the page located and who is in charge of the web site (a company, a government body, or e.g. a private individual). Keep in mind that the information on e.g. company web sites often contains advertising.
  • Timeliness: find out at least when the page has been created and when it has last been updated.

In addition, it is preferable to use primary sources rather than secondary ones for e.g. theses.

AI literacy

AI applications based on large language models have taken huge leaps in recent years and are able to produce text with a couple of clicks. In university studies, ChatGPT and other similar applications must be used with extreme care, as the artificial intelligence output may contain errors or fictitious claims and sources. AI does not understand the text it produces like humans do, so always examine AI output critically. You must ensure that you use AI responsibly in your own studies.  

Always remember to follow the instructions provided by the teacher when using AI applications. Teachers may also prohibit the use of large language models in their courses. Unauthorised use of language models may be considered cheating. If you use the language model in writing, you must be specific and indicate in writing which model (e.g. ChatGPT, DeepL) you have used and in what way. Read the University of Helsinki’s guidelines on how AI applications can be used to support learning.

Read more: Information for students on the use of artificial intelligence at the University (Studies Service)