Skip to main content
  • David Glenn Hunt Memorial Library
  • Evaluating Sources

    When looking for sources–particularly websites–think about whether or not they are reliable. You want your paper to contain sources written by unbiased and professional experts, not businessmen with commercial interests.

    Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if a source is reliable:

    Author

    • Who is providing the information?
    • What do you know about the author and their credentials?
    • Are they an expert?
    • Can you find out more and contact them?
    • Search for author or publisher in search engine. Has the author written several publications on the topic?
    • Have other credible people referenced this source?

    Publisher

    • Is there a sponsor or affiliation?
    • Who is linking to the page?
    • Do they take responsibility for the content?
    • Websites: Are credible sites linking to this page?

    Bias

    • Is the language free of emotion?
    • Does the organization or author suggest there may be bias? Does bias make sense in relations to your argument?
    • Is the purpose of the website to inform or to persuade towards a certain agenda?
    • Are there ads? Are they trying to make money?
    • Why did they write the article?
    • Websites: Is the site a content farm? A content farm is a site whose content has been generated by teams of freelancers who write large amounts of low-quality text to raise the site’s search engine rankings.

    Citations

    • Copy and paste a sentence into Google to see if the text can be found elsewhere.
    • (Website) Are there links to related sites? Are they organized?
    • Are there citations or a bibliography provided? Do they cite their sources?

    Accuracy

    • Is the data verifiable and accurate?
    • Is the source comprehensive?
    • Currency
    • When was the source last updated?
    • Does the source have a date?

    Design

    • Does the source appear professional?
    • Does it seem like current design?

    Reproduced

    • Was it reproduced? If so, from where? Type a sentence in Google to verify.
    • If it was reproduced, was it done so with permission? Copyright/disclaimer included?

    Keep in mind that everything is written from a particular social, cultural, and political perspective. Realize that some publications tend to be ‘slanted’ towards a certain viewpoint. For example, the CATO Institute is known for being libertarian, while The Nation is known to lean left. Keep these slants in mind when you are researching.

    (Source: easybib.com.)

    Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or time-period. They can also be results of experiments or research. Primary sources must be factual not interpretive. Here are some examples of primary sources:
    Diaries, journals, letters

    • Works of art
    • Newspaper or magazine accounts from the time period
    • Photographs, maps, postcards
    • Songs, plays

    Secondary sources analyze and interpret primary sources. These can be second-hand accounts of events, or interpretations of sources. Here are some examples of secondary sources:

    • Biographies
    • Literary criticisms, book reviews
    • Interpretive newspaper articles
    • Analysis of scientific experiments

    (Source: easybib.com.)

    The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes, depending on your research question, but research assignments will often require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials.

    (The table below was adapted from The University of California Berkeley Library)

     

    Scholarly Popular
    Authors: Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed
    Examples:

    Journal Databases such as: Academic Search Complete, CINAHL Plus, Legal Collection. 

    *This is NOT a conclusive list of databases*

    Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from popular publishers like Penguin and Random House
    Focus: Specific and in-depth Broad overviews
    Language: Dense; includes academic jargon Easier to read; defines specialized terms
    Format: Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions Varies
    Citations: Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text 
    Before publication: Evaluated by peers (other scholars)  Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all
    Audience: Specialists in the subject area: students, professors and the author's peers General readers; shouldn't require any special background
    Design: Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations and advertising are more common
    Purpose: Communicating research findings; education;  Entertainment; news

    When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it... but is it good information?

    You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help.

    The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. 

    All news is not accurate and all news is not real! Fake news does exist and it can look like the real thing! 

    • How to Spot Fake News
      • 8 tips from the International Federation of Library Associations and institutions. 
    • FactCheck.org
      • A project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
    • Snopes.com
      • is the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource.When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust, Snopes.com’s fact checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. 
    • The Washington Post Fact Checker

    How to Spot Fake News: Video