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Research @ Reynolds Libraries

6 a. Criteria for evaluating sources

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

North Carolina State University Libraries. This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license - http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/evaluating-sources/

Evaluation Criteria Checklist - Questions to Ask

When evaluating either print or online resources for a research assignment or paper, ask the following questions from the evaluation criteria checklist below:

Evaluation Criteria Checklist

 Author/Authority

  • Who is the author or sponsoring organization?
  • Who is the publisher?
  • Is there contact information?
  • Are the author’s credentials provided?
  • Is biographical information given?

 Bias

  • Why was the work written?
  • Does the author or sponsor have an agenda?
  • Is there an About link?
  • Is the site personal, commercial, governmental, organizational, or educational? (.com, .gov, .org, .edu)
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Is the information intended to inform, explain, sell, promote, or persuade?

 Content/Currency

  • Currency:  what is the publication date or last revision?
  • Is the source comprehensive, brief, or unique?
  • Is the material presented as original or secondary?
  • What level is the presentation? (elementary, HS, college)
  • Does the author support the information with works cited or links to other sources?

 

 Design

 

  • Is the website user-friendly?
  • What kinds of images are used?
  • Is the navigation menu well-labeled?
  • Are there spelling or grammar errors?
  • Do the pages appear uncluttered?
  • Are there ads or pop-ups on the page?
  • Are links working?

Is the Author Qualified?

Search for contact information such as a name, e-mail address, or institution.

Search for the author's credentials:

  • Is the author affiliated with a university, organization, institution, or association? 
  • Search for the author's name in a library database such as Academic Search Complete or WorldCat to find out about whether or not the author has other publications.
  • Search the author's name on Google. Is he or she listed as author of other Web publications? Is there an organization, publisher, or corporate author listed? Who is producing or sponsoring the site? A university? A government agency? An organization? Is the organization profit or nonprofit? Do you see a university or corporate logo? Is the site someone's personal Web page?

For a Web site, look at the site's address. Is the top-level domain .edu, .gov, or .org? These domains indicate that the source is an educational, government, or non-profit institution and may indicate higher reliability, but this does not automatically make it an authoritative or reliable source.

  • If you cannot tell anything about the producer of the site from the page you are on, delete part of the Web address after the main address or first forward slash (/). This will take you to the home page of the site. From there you may be able to find out who is sponsoring it.
  • Many Web sources do not give the identity or credentials of the author or producer. Sources that do not give this information have questionable reliability.

Check a biographical source:

  • There will be many times during your years in college and later in life that you will need to find biographical information about a person. The library has dozens of biographical sources in the reference area. A researcher often doesn't know which one will contain information on the person of interest. Some basic sources to try are the following:
  • Articles: Find articles in databases such as: Literature Resource Center or Academic Search Complete.
  • Encyclopedia articles: Look in general or specialized encyclopedias for a brief summary of an author's life. Use the library catalog to find both print and online encyclopedias.
  • Books: Do a subject search in the library catalog to find print and online books that detail a person's life.

Read a critical review:

  • Book Reviews: A review is a critical evaluation which will often provide information about the author. By reading reviews, you can determine the quality of a book or movie.Books are reviewed in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. Ordinarily a book will be reviewed within a year after it is published, although it may be reviewed later.  The following are two sources for finding book reviews:

Where can I find reliable information on the Web?

The Web contains a wealth of information published by governments, educational institutions, professional organizations, non-profit groups, commercial enterprises, and private individuals all over the world. Since there are no standards for information quality on the Web, not everything you find will be accurate or appropriate to use as research. Generally speaking, you can locate reliable information on authoritative Web sites, such as:

Government agency and department web site url addresses are identified by the .gov domain suffix:

College and university web site url addresses are identified by the .edu domain suffix:

  • Example: Harvard University http://www.harvard.edu
  • Excludes student or faculty pages hosted by the educational institution.  

Professional society and non-profit organization web site url addresses are identified by the .org domain suffix:

Beware, not all .org sites are unbiased. There are organizations with Web sites in this category that exist to promote a specific point of view, for example, Planned Parenthood, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or the National Rifle Association.

Commercial or for-profit company web site url addresses are identified by the .com domain suffix:

If it is not obvious the information comes from an authoritative group, look for links such as "About Us," "Who We Are," or "Our Mission" to evaluate the source.

Critical Reading

Check out an excellent guide, Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing, written by Deborah Knott, New College Writing Centre, University of Toronto.  Some of her tips include:

  • Don't read looking only or primarily for information.
  • Do read looking for ways of thinking about the subject matter.

Evaluation Tutorials

Evaluation Criteria Checklists