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Guide to the Research Process: 3a. Evaluate Sources

This guide provides an introduction to the skills needed to conduct research.

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

When doing research, you are likely to use a variety of sources such as books; articles from newspapers, magazines, or journals; and websites. To ensure that you are including only valid information in your research, evaluate your sources using the criteria below.

Criteria Questions to Ask

Authority / Credibility
Determining the author for a source is important in deciding whether information is credible. The author should show some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable, and credible.

  • Who is the author (person, company, or organization)?
  • Does the source provide any information that leads you to believe the author is an expert on the topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution?
  • Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies?

The source should contain accurate and up-to-date information that can be verified by other sources.

  • Can facts or statistics be verified through another source?
  • Based on your knowledge, does the information seem accurate? Does it match the information found in other sources?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

Scope / Relevance
It is important that the source meets the information needs and requirements of your research topic.

  • Does the source cover your topic comprehensively or does it cover only one aspect?
  • To what extent does the source answer your research question?
  • Is the source considered popular or scholarly?
  • Is the terminology and language used easy to understand?
Currency / Date
Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly. It is important to determine if currency is pertinent to your research.
  • When was the material created, published, or last updated?
  • Have more recent articles been published on the topic?
  • Are links or references to other sources up-to-date?
Objectivity / Bias / Reliability
Every author has an opinion. Recognizing this is instrumental in determining if the information presented is objective or biased. 
  • What is the purpose or motive for the source (educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience - the general public? the educated layperson? professionals? practitioners? scholars?
  • Is a balanced view of different perspectives on the topic presented?
  • Is the author pretending to be objective, but really trying to persuade, promote, or sell something?
  • Are important facts or data that might disprove a claim omitted?
  • Is strong or emotional language used?

Style / Functionality
Style and functionality may be of lesser concern. However, if the source is not well-organized, its value is diminished.

  • Is the material well-written and organized?
  • Does it contain a table of contents and/or index to facilitate use?
  • Does it include a bibliography?
  • Does it contain graphs, tables, charts, illustrations, photographs, maps, or other special features that add to its usefulness
  • If it is a website, can you navigate around easily?
  • If it is a website, are links broken?