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How can I know if a data source is trustworthy?

A: Verifying the trustworthiness of data is not difficult and should be done any time you use data to make decisions.

Knowing whether a data source is trustworthy is extremely important but often overlooked. Some data sources have instant creditability, such as the U.S. Department of Education or your state’s department of education. However, data also comes from various organizations you may or may not be familiar with. In those cases, you should take a little time to determine how trustworthy the data is.

First, consider where the data is published. Data published in a peer-reviewed journal or a government publication may have more creditability than data published by other types of organizations — associations, non-profit research organizations, or so-called “think tanks.” Nevertheless, these organizations can produce sound data on topics of high interest; therefore, they can be a good source for data when approached cautiously.

Second, check out who funded the collection and analysis of the data. The organization that publishes the data may not have a particular bias, but the organization that funded the data collection could. In some instances, that might bias the data. The data may be accurate, but analyze the data with caution when the data collection and analysis is paid for by an organization with a certain bias or slant.

Third, checking data found online is particularly important. The Stanford Guidelines to Web Credibility provides these guidelines to determining the credibility of data found on the Web.

  • Does the Web site provide references for research that can be independently verified?
  • Are authors identified? Are their affiliations, credentials, and contact information provided?
  • Who owns or is responsible for the Web site? Is a physical address and complete contact information provided?
  • Does the site describe its mission? Are staff members identified?
  • Does the site carry advertising? If it is run by a not-for-profit organization, are its sources of funding identified?
  • Is the site professional in appearance and quality? How recently has it been updated? Is it free from typographical and grammatical errors?

Verifying the trustworthiness of data is not difficult and should be done any time you use data in your decision-making.

To find out more about education research and data, check out the Center’s Consumer’s Guide to Education Research and the Center’s Finding Creditable Research: Q&A.