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Evaluating Sources

There is a vast amount of information available to us-but not all of it is reliable or appropriate for scholarly information.

The information below provides guidance on how to critically evaluate information from a variety of sources.

Evaluate by:

Source Type

Points to Consider:

What kind of source is it?

  • Book
  • Magazine article
  • Scholarly journal article
  • Newspaper article
  • Trade publication
  • Website

Author

Points to consider:

  • Is the author an expert in his or her field?
  • What else has the author written?
  • Is the author affiliated with an institution?
  • Is he or she a university professor?

Knowing who wrote the item is critical to the evaluation process. If the author doesn't have the credentials to be able to write about the topic, the source may not be credible.

In website evaluation, the individual author is not always evident. Notice the organization, institution, or business behind the website-is it credible? The last part of the domain name (.com, .edu, .gov, .org) helps identify the type of organization.

Audience

Points to Consider:

Who is the intended audience?

  • General public
  • Professors and scholars
  • Professional community

Knowing who the intended audience is will help in deciding whether to include a source. If the audience is the general public, for example, and you are writing a scholarly paper, the source might not be relevant.

Publisher

Points to Consider:

Who published this piece?

  • Commercial publisher
  • University press
  • Professional organization
  • the US government printing office

When trying to determine the intended audience and intellectual level of the piece, it helps to consider who published it and why. Is the goal to sell magazines and advertise products? Is the intention to share research in a field?

Date

Points to Consider:

  • Is the information up-to-date?
  • Do you need a historical perspective?

For certain subjects, it is critical to have current information. For example, avoid using an article written in 1994 about breast cancer unless your research includes historical information. Health information, in particular, becomes out-of-date very quickly.

Content

Points to Consider:

  • Is the information presented responsibly?
  • Is it clearly written?
  • Are the arguments presented logically?
  • Are purported facts cited?
  • Do the facts support the conclusions?
  • Are opposing arguments addressed?

When evaluating content, look for evidence that the facts presented are accurate. Be wary of irrelevant information, faulty logic, and bias.

It is also important to consider the focus of your research paper. Do you need a historical perspective? Personal opinion? Statistics to back up an argument? Research articles from scholarly journals to reflect an expert's analysis?

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