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Research Fundamentals: 7. Evaluate Your Sources

Proceed through each tab in this guide and learn how to become more efficient and skilled at library research.

Evaluating Your Sources

When you write papers, you need to make sure that you are using quality sources to support your points.  The sources you choose will impact the amount of credibility you have with your reader!

Watch this short video to learn about the criteria you should use to evaluate your sources. 

Libncsu. (2015, June 9).  Evaluating sources for credibility [Video]. YouTube.

Use the chart below for guiding questions you should ask to evaluate your sources. 

You should question the AUTHORITY, OBJECTIVITY, CURRENCY, and SUITABILITY of every source before you use it for a research paper!

If you're having trouble answering these questions about a source, you might want to reconsider using it!

 

1. AUTHORITY

Questions to ask Where to find this information
Who is the author?

Most common places to find the author

  • Title page or first page
  • End of the article  (encyclopedias)
  • Top or bottom of the page (websites)

What are the author's credentials?

  • Higher education degree (academic subject expertise?)
  • Institutional affiliation
  • Field experience
  • Previous work (ex: held public office?)
  • Check out the item for information about the author
  • Google for the author's home page/ information
  • Search for other works by the author

What is the author's reputation?

  • Is he/she cited by other researchers in the field?
  • Try Google Scholar--use the "cited by" link
  • Some databases, such as ProQuest, will list whether or not it's been cited

Who published the work?

  • Is the publisher/journal/website academic, popular, or scholarly?
  • Do they have a reputation for quality?
  • Do they specialize in the topic?
  • Examine the publisher's website

Is the author affiliated with a particular organization?

  • What is the organization's mission and/or goals?
  • Who makes up its membership?
  • Examine the organization's website

 

2. OBJECTIVITY:

Questions to ask

Where to find this information

Why was this written?

  •   Is the purpose of the site/report/book/article clearly stated?
  • Check out the introduction, abstract, or "about us"

Does the author acknowledge their biases? 

  • Do they seem focused on a certain point of view?
  • Do they acknowledge other points of view?
  • Is more than one side of a controversial topic presented?
  • Look for these things:
    • Inflammatory language (uses words or phrases intended to provoke a reaction)
    • Supporting facts
    • Is there a bibliography or links to other people/sources?
    •  Do the author's sources reflect more than one viewpoint?

Are the sources used by the author of good quality?

  • Are the arguments/conclusions backed up by evidence?
  • Do the sources used address multiple points of view?
  • Are the sources cited authoritative?
  • Fact check the information 
  • Check to see who else cites the information
  • Look at the sources cited for quality and objectivity

 

3. CURRENCY: 

Questions to ask  Where to find this information
When was the source published?

Look for the copyright information, located on

  • Publication info page in books 
  • First page of an article
  • Dates on webpages may indicate:
    • When it was created
    • Last updated

Does your topic require current information? 

Would presenting outdated information be inaccurate or harmful? 

Check with your professor to see if there is a publication date requirement for your sources.  Topics that typically require current information include:

  • Science and Medicine
  • Current events
Is this the most up to date version of the source? If it's a book, you can check WorldCat to see if there is a new edition. You can also check Amazon. 

 

4. SUITABILITY

Questions to ask

Where to find this information

Will this source meet the requirements of your assignment?

  • What does your professor expect?  Check out the assignment requirements or ask your professor.

* Table inspired by Peterson, E. (2020, February 4).  Evaluating sources.  University of Oregon Libraries.  https://researchguides.uoregon.edu/gateway/evaluate-sources; Excelsior Online Writing Lab. (2019). Evaluating sourceshttps://owl.excelsior.edu/research/evaluating-sources/; Cornell University Library.  (2020, February 24).   Evaluating webpages: Questions to considerhttp://guides.library.cornell.edu/evaluating_Web_pages

 

 

 

 

In addition to careful attention to the credibility of your sources, context will also play a significant role in the sources you use. This means that when you write papers in college, you will need sources that fulfill your professor's requirements. In addition, although scholarly sources are generally preferred for academic research, popular sources may be more appropriate for research on current events, for background information, or for research for your personal life decisions (such as who to vote for). Context matters!

 

Watch this short video to learn about the importance of context when you evaluate sources. 

USU Libraries. (2017, August 8). Evaluating sources [Video].  YouTube.