How to Evaluate Sources
Not all information is created equal. Some sources are more trustworthy and more appropriate to academic research than others. Learning to evaluate information sources is a key skill both in research and in life.
While there are many criteria that you can use to judge a source, we recommend looking at Author, Review, Date, Bias, and Sources. Below you’ll find more information on how to evaluate using those criteria.
Books, articles, and newspapers all undergo some form of review process. Scholarly books and articles will be reviewed by editors and experts in the field to check for accuracy and to assess the research methodology. Newspapers are reviewed by an editor. Many sources you can find online have not had any review. That means that there has been no one to check for accuracy. Here are some things to consider when looking at a source:
- Has the information been reviewed? Was it published in a journal or by a reputable publisher?
- Can you get more information about the publisher? For example, for a journal, can you check their website to see who runs the journal? Are they affiliated with a college/university or professional association?
The currency of information is essential for some types of research and less so for others. Historical information that reflects people and events of the past is relevant to research in many fields. In other fields such as health care, legislation, and finance, current information is most important. Here are some things to consider:
- When was the information published or last updated?
- Have newer articles been published on your topic?
- Are links or references to other sources up to date?
- Is your topic in an area that changes rapidly?
Scholarly sources will always list the sources used, generally in the form of a bibliography. Other information types, like websites and blogs, might list sources but may not. Be skeptical of information that doesn't list a source. When you review sources, check:
- Does the author cite the work of others?
- What kinds of sources are listed?
- For online sites, are the links current or are they dead ends?
All information can have bias. Being aware of what a source is trying to convince you of and why can help you decide whether it is trustworthy or useful. To evaluate the bias of a source, consider:
- What is the intent of the source? Does it want to persuade you? Does it want you to buy something?
- Are there ads? How to they relate to the content?
- Is the author presenting fact or opinion?
- Is the language used impartial?