English 001 A (Lundberg): Evaluating Sources

Library Orientation

How credible are your sources?

For each source you use you want to make sure it is:

Relevant - Does it answer your research question?

Current - Is the content presented current enough for your project?

Accurate - Is the information provided correct?

Authoritative - Does the author have expertise on the topic about which she is writing?

Objective - Is the information biased? Is the author trying to persuade you to believe a certain way?

Scholarly v. Popular

Scholarly material is produced by scholars/experts whose credentials can be evaluated. Aimed at other scholars, it disseminates specialized and discipline-specific information, often reporting on original research and experimentation. Scholarly information is a great choice for college students, though it can be challenging to read because of its scholarly language. Scholarly sources are often called academic or peer-reviewed.

Example: Journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association

 

Popular material is created by journalists, staff writers or freelance writers, and, sometimes, by enthusiasts. This type of information is aimed at the general public. It usually provides a broad overview of topics a general readership will find entertaining. Use popular material sparingly, if at all; for academic work you'll need to be sure to supplement it with articles from scholarly and substantive sources.

Examples: Magazines like People Weekly or Maxim.

 

See the following criteria to help you identify popular magazines, trade magazines, and scholarly journals.

Evaluating Internet Resources

Always ask yourself:

  • What does the URL teach about the source of the information?
  • Who is responsible for the site, and what are their reasons for putting up this information?
  • What are their credentials?
  • What is the point of view of the website? Is it fair and unbiased?
  • Does it present both sides of an issue or only one?
  • How current is the web page?
  • Would you use this as a source for a paper on this topic? Why or why
    not?

Websites--recommended by Librarians:

Librarians' Index to the Internet

Intute

WRAC Online

Researching Online--short video

How about Web sources?

The ABCs of Web Page Evaluation provide an easy-to-remember set of quick criteria to apply to any and all information you come across on the Web.

Authority (credentials)

Who is presenting this information, and what are their related qualifications? Is there an individual author listed, or is the information coming from a group or organization? If an individual author is listed, can you determine if they have relevant education and experience?  Can you verify his/her qualifications? If a group/organization authored the material, who are they? Are they a nationally recognized group? How long have they been around? Who is on their staff? How about their Board of Directors?

Bias (objectivity)

What is the purpose of this web site? Is it designed to present factual information as a public service, or is its purpose to persuade readers to adopt a particular viewpoint? Does it exist to make a profit? Researchers can use biased information as long as they proceed with caution. Put biased information into context (“According to the National Rifle Association, gun control fails in its fundamental purpose.”) and be sure to double-check statistics and “facts” from biased sights against reliable, non-biased sources.

Currency (time-frame)

Is the material current enough to support your research?