Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if a source is reliable:
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.
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:
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)
|Authors:||Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians||Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed|
*This is NOT a conclusive list of databases*
|Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com;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|
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.