28 The 5 Ws

The librarians at the University of Tennessee developed a set of questions that they call “The 5 Ws” that can be used to evaluate the credibility of any source of information (book, article, blog post, etc.). Students at the University are given a New York Times column and are asked to answer the questions. For a copy of this resource as it was originally given to students, go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0vtrPDaeiV6VFJUYUNzRGlfb00/view?usp=sharing. Results of the use of this activity were shared in an article published in the journal Reference & User Services Quarterly 53, no. 4 (Summer 2014): 334-347.

WHAT: What type of document is it?

1. In general, what is the document?

  • A factual piece
  • An opinion piece
  • Other (please specify)

2. In particular, what is the document? (If you don’t know the definition of anything below,
please ask!)

  • Article (Popular, published in a magazine or newspaper)
  • Article (Peer-reviewed, published in a scholarly journal)
  • Blog Post
  • Book
  • Column
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Editorial
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Press Release
  • Report
  • Review (e.g., a book review or film review)
  • Website
  • Other (please specify)

WHO: Who created the document?

3. Who wrote this? (If there is more than one author, list only the first two authors.) Where do they work?

4. Find information about the author(s). Use Google, Wikipedia, and the author’s employer’s website.

  • Where does the author work?
  • What has the author published before?

5. Does the author have a master’s degree, Ph.D., or other qualifications (such as work experience) that contribute to his/her authority?

  • Yes, the author has qualifications that make her/him an authority.
  • No, the author’s credentials do not make her/him an authority.
  • I am uncertain about the author’s qualifications.

6. LIST the URLs of the websites you visited to investigate the author. Also, GIVE EXAMPLES of what you found on each site that helped you determine the author’s credentials, or that left you uncertain about his/her authority.

WHY: Why was the document published?

7. Why do you think the author wrote this document? (What was his/her MAIN PURPOSE for writing?)

  • To convince readers of something
  • To entertain readers
  • To inform readers
  • To sell something to readers
  • To criticize another author’s work
  • There is another purpose (please specify)

8. Give examples (quotes) from the text that helped you determine the author’s purpose.

9. What type of language does the author use?

  • Formal: The author uses technical language or discipline-specific jargon
  • Conversational: The author uses colloquial, everyday language or a narrative style

10. What is the author’s point of view?

  • Objective, neutral perspective
  • Interested, opinionated, favoring one side

WHEN: When was the document published?

11. When was the document published?

12. The document discusses something that happened — maybe events or the findings of a new research study. When did the events or research occur? (If the document reports on multiple events, list just a few of the most important.)

13. What was happening in the world at the time this was published that might explain why the author wrote what they did, when they did?

WHERE: Where did this information come from?

14. What is the name of the organization that published this document? (Name the newspaper, magazine, journal, website, etc.)

15. What type of publication is it? (This question does not refer to the document, but to where the document was published.) The document was published in a…

  • Blog
  • Academic/Scholarly Journal
  • Magazine
  • Newspaper
  • Website
  • Other (please specify)

16. Has the publication/publishing organization won any significant awards or other distinctions?

  • YES. List awards or distinctions here:
  • NO. List sites/URLs you visited to check for awards:

17. Where can you contact the author and/or publishing organization if you have questions or want more information? (Check all that apply.)

  • The author has an email and/or mailing address listed.
  • The publishing organization has an email and/or mailing address listed.
  • No contact information for either the author or the publisher is provided.

18. This publication (newspaper, journal, website, etc.) is primarily intended for what kind of audience/reader?

  • Scholars and peers in a particular academic discipline (i.e., a psychologist writing about an experiment to inform other psychologists
    about the results)
  • An educated audience interested in a particular professional trade (i.e., a marketing professional addressing others in the marketing field
    about a new software program)
  • The general public

19. If your publication is available online, what is the domain of the publication’s Website?

  • .com OR .org OR .net
  • .edu OR .gov
  • N/A (Not Applicable: The publication does not have a website.)

HOW: How was the information gathered and presented?

20. How did the author use his/her information?

  • References are cited throughout the document in a scholarly style. (There are footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations and a bibliography.)
  • References are cited throughout the document in a popular style. (There are in-text quotes and attributions, but there is no bibliography at the end of the document.)
  • References are not listed.

21. How did the author reach his/her conclusions? (Check all that apply.)

  • Interviewed a group of people who are very different from one another
  • Interviewed a group of people who are very similar to one another
  • Gathered data from an academic research study he/she conducted
  • Gathered data from a variety of news sources
  • Found multiple academic research studies that support his/her study
  • Other (please specify)

22. Which of the following elements does the document contain?

  • Abstract (Look up the definition of “abstract” first and provide it here.)
  • Advertisements
  • Eye-catching fonts
  • Graphics (designs, cartoons, and illustrations not conveying data)
  • Graphs, charts, tables, and/or maps
  • Methods section (Look up the definition of “methodology” first and provide it here.)
  • Bibliography (list of references) at the end

Overall, what is your impression of the document?

23. Is the document scholarly or popular?

  • Scholarly
  • Popular

24. Explain why you think it is either scholarly or popular.

For the final three questions, review the 5 Ws of your source:

WHAT What is the document? Is it fact or opinion?
WHO Who wrote the document? What do you know about the author?
WHY Why did the author write this?
WHEN When was the document published? What was happening in the world?
WHERE Where was the document published? What do you know about the quality of the publishing organization?
HOW How did the author gather data? How did the author present information?

25. Considering the 5 Ws, what are the document’s strengths? Explain.

26. Considering the 5 Ws, what are the document’s weaknesses? Explain.

27. Thinking about the 5 Ws of your source, would you cite this source in a research paper? Why or why not? Might your answer depend on the type of paper you’re writing? How so?

 

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The 5 Ws by Cathie LeBlanc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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