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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/

Evaluating Sources: Using the 5 W's video tutorial

Evaluation Criteria Checklist - Questions to Ask

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

Evaluation Criteria Checklist - The 5 W's

Who?

  • Who is the author? Is an author listed?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Does the author's education or experience qualify them as an authority on the topic they are writing about?
  • What institution or organization is the author affiliated with?
  • Is contact information listed for the author?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the source written for professionals or the general public?

What?

  • What is the purpose of the information - to educate, entertain, inform, persuade, sell?
  • What type of resource is it? (e.g., advertisement, blog, journal, magazine or newspaper article)
  • What information in this resource should I use in my assignment and how should I use it?
  • Is the information relevant to my topic or does it answer my research questions?
  • Is the information objective or does it contain any biases?
  • Are there any advertisements or sponsors?
 Where?
  • Where does the information come from? (e.g., database, organization, sponsor, .edu, .gov, .org, .com)
  • Where can I look to find out more about the publisher or sponsor?  
  • Where can I use this resource in my assignment?

When?

  • When was the resource published or last updated? Is a publication date listed?
  • Is the information timely or is it outdated?
  • Does my topic require current information? (e.g., science or technology topic)
  • Will older resources be acceptable or preferred? (e.g., history topic or primary source)
  • Do the links on the webpage or website still work?
Why?
  • Why should I use this resource for my assignment?
  • Why is this resource relevant to my thesis?
  • Why is this resource better to use in my assignment than other resources?
  • Does the source add new information to the topic I am researching or does it simply repeat or summarize other perspectives?

Is the Author Qualified?

Search for the author's 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 or company? 
  • Search for the author's name in a library database such as Academic Search Complete or WorldCat to find out whether or not the author has written other publications.
  • Search for the author's name on Google. Is he or she listed as the author of other publications? Who is producing or sponsoring the site? A university? A government agency? An organization? A company? Is the organization for profit or nonprofit? Do you see a university or corporate logo? Is the site someone's personal webpage?

For a website, look at the URL address. Is the top-level domain .edu.gov, .org or .com?  These domains indicate whether the source is an educational, governmental, for profit, or non-profit entity and may sometimes indicate higher reliability. If the source is from a specific URL address or domain, that does not automatically mean it is an authoritative or reliable source.

  • If you cannot tell anything about the producer of the website from the webpage you are on, delete part of the URL address after the main address or first forward slash (/). This will take you to the homepage of the website. From there you may be able to find out who is sponsoring the source.
  • 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 provides access to many online and print biographical resources. A researcher often doesn't know which one will contain information on a specific person or author. Some basic sources to try are the following:
  • Articles: Find articles in databases such as Academic Search Complete.or Literature Resource Center.
  • Encyclopedia articles: Look in general or specialized encyclopedias such as Gale Ebooks for a brief summary of an author's life. Use the library catalog to find both online and print encyclopedias.
  • Books: Do a subject search in the library catalog to find online and print  books that detail a person's life.

Read a critical book review:

  • A book review is a critical evaluation of a book which will often provide information about the author. By reading book reviews, you can determine the quality of a book. 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 government departments, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, 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 websites, such as:

Government agency and department websites - URL addresses are identified by the .gov domain suffix:

College and university websites - 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 websites - URL addresses are identified by the .org domain suffix:

Beware, not all .org sites are unbiased. There are organizations with websites 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 websites - 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 UsWho 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