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Can I Use This?

Can I use This - Why and Conclusion

This is the last of seven video modules in Langara Library's Can I Use This? Evaluating Your Sources Tutorial. This video examines the "Why" criteria of the 5Ws. Use this criteria to determine the  purpose of the work: why was it written? Is the author biased? Is the author's intent to inform, teach, sell, persuade or entertain?

Video Transcript:

Why focuses on the author's purpose for writing the document. We can ask ourselves questions like:

  • Why is the author writing or publishing this source?
  • Who is their intended audience?
  • Does the article mean to inform or teach?
  • Are they trying to persuade you? Sell you something? Get you to click on more articles?
  • Do they show an obvious bias?
  • Are they trying to appeal to your emotions?

Sources that are suitable for your assignments may answer these questions in different ways. As long as you're aware of a source's weaknesses, you can make an informed decision about how to use it. Let's do another Google search, this time looking for information about how air pollutants may affect our DNA. Here is a blog post from a blogger at the Mother Nature Network. Let's see if we can answer some questions about this author's motivations, intentions, or biases.

The About Us page mentions that it has other sites, like, in their network, which suggests that it has strong environmental leanings. However, it claims to offer accurate and non-political information for the everyday person. Let's look into the post further to help decide why this post was written. Is the author's language unbiased and free of emotion? The author appears to simply summarize the study's findings. However, if we read closely, we can see that the author does use some emotional language, especially in the title of the article: Air Pollution Messes With Our DNA. A more objective article might simply discuss the impacts or effects of pollutants.

Does the author present all sides of an argument? In this case, the author acknowledges weaknesses in the source they are using, but also suggests that the researcher's subtle results could have scary consequences over a long period of time. Sources may have weaknesses such as bias, ulterior motives, or goals that make them inappropriate for your assignments. Look for clues like emotional language and consider these as you make informed decisions in your research.

That concludes our modules on the 5 W's. So what do you think? Would you cite the sources we've looked at together for your assignment on air pollution and human health? For this topic, we've reviewed 5 potential sources: a page on a commercial website, a scholarly article, a report from a government agency, and news release on an organization's website, and a post on a blog network. As we've seen, selecting sources is not black and white. The real value of the sources you choose depends on how you interact with your sources. Not all sources are right for every assignment but a variety of valuable and well selected sources will enrich your contribution to a scholarly conversation. Be sure to stick to assignment instructions and if you're confused about a particular source, be sure to ask your instructor or a librarian for help.

As you go through your research, running each source you find you a quick 5W check will help you make a more informed decision about the sources you use in your research assignments. Well researched assignments will draw from a number of scholarly and popular sources. We will leave you with the idea that: Good cooking, like good research is more than following a recipe. It requires interpretation, experience, practice, and a healthy amount of creativity.