loading…

You're writing a paper.

You need sources.

How do you know which ones are the best?

This tutorial will help you gain skill in the fine art of evaluating sources and will put you on the road to becoming an information connoisseur.

Evaluating
Resources

In order to evaluate sources, we will use the ACCORD method.

Briefly, ACCORD means:

  • Agenda - What was the author's purpose?
  • Credentials - Is the author creditable?
  • Citations - Does the author cite the work of others?
  • Oversight - Did someone have to approve the publication?
  • Relevance - Does the source fit your needs?
  • Date - How recent is the source?

For more detail, take a look at our guide on evaluating resources.

In evaluating a source, consider the context in which you will use it. Most sources are not inherently good or bad, but some are more appropriate for a particular project than others.

For this tutorial, imagine that you're working on a paper that examines the reputed benefits of red wine on cardiac health. The paper should be about six pages long and should cite at least five sources.

Now let's look at some potential sources and evaluate them using the six criteria of ACCORD.

Let's start with this book: Cholesterol Cures, © 2002.

How well does the book meet the ACCORD criteria for your assigned project? For each criterion, click "Yup" if the item passes the test, "Nope" if it fails.

Tip: You can click on the page images for a closer look.

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

Tip: mouse over the marks for more details.

As a source for your paper, this book has several shortcomings. It's over a decade old, which might be okay in some fields, but nutrition is a field in which things change quickly. Unlike wine, nutritional information does not get better with age.

No credentials are listed for the authors (other than the "medical advisor"). Also, this is a popular press book and so is not subject to the academic peer review process.

Cholesterol Cures cover Cholesterol Cures author list Cholesterol Cures sample page

Now take a look at this article from the Mayo Clinic web site: Red Wine, Antioxidants and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart?

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

This source isn't awful. Certainly, the reputation of the Mayo Clinic makes it seem authoritative. But we don't actually know who wrote it. The short length of the article and its popular tone suggest that the article may contain over-simplified information. This is second-cheapest wine. You can do better.

Mayo Clinic article part 1 Mayo Clinic article part 2

Up next is Effects of resveratrol on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of random controlled trials by Liu et al. from the journal Clinical Nutrition.

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

Full-bodied with nice stucture. Dark fruit overtones with subtle hints of vanilla. The article is written by clinical practioners, is directly relevant to the subject of your paper, and has been accepted by a peer-reviewed, academic journal. Cite this article with pride!

Liu paper, first page Liu paper, penultimate page Liu paper, last page

Searching one of the Library's databases, you find this 2013 article from Better Health. How does this measure up?

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

The most serious problem for this article is with agenda. The article ends with the sentence "Meanwhile, human studies have shown that resveratrol supplements are safe and beneficial." Just below are ads for three different resveratrol supplements. This represents a serious conflict of interest.

Also note that while the article refers to a couple of articles in academic journals, complete citations are not provided.

Finally: "Grape Expectations"? Really? It should be disqualified just for that.

Better Health article page 1 Better Health article page 2

The next item to consider is this article from the European Journal of Nutrition.

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

This is an excellent source—for someone else's paper. While it has good ACCORD scores in general, the lack of relevance to your topic makes this a poor choice. Keep this one in the cellar. It's good stuff, but it won't complement this evening's entree.

"Postprandial," by the way, means "occurring after a meal." We Googled it.

Peluso article p.1 Peluso article second page Peluso article third page

This is the last one, and it's a little bit tricky.

Yup Nope  
Agenda  
Citations  
Credentials  
Oversight  
Relevance  
Date  

This is an excellent article for your project. Oversight might be seen as a weak point, since this is posted on the author's blog. But given the author's credentials and the fact that his blog is on the NIH website, that seems like a nitpick.

NIH Director's blog

Thank you for working through this tutorial. We hope you found it useful.

If you are doing this tutorial for a class, fill out this form to send the instructor an e-mail.

(This lets us know you're human.)
salud!