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Paideia 112 Research Unit

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

For your research paper, you will use a variety of primary and secondary sources, including books, scholarly essays from academic journals, and primary sources such as newspaper articles. Regardless of the type of source, it is important that the information be reliable and appropriate for your assignment. To ensure you are including only valid information in your research, evaluate your sources in Worksheets 3-6 on Evaluating Sources (see Home: Worksheets 1-10) using the criteria below.

Criteria Questions to Ask

Authority / Credibility
Determining the author for a source is important in deciding whether information is credible. The author should show some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable and truthful.

  • Who is the author (person, company, or organization)?
  • Does the source provide any information that leads you to believe the author is an expert on the topic?
  • Can you describe the author's background (experience, education, knowledge)?
  • Does the author provide citations? Do you think they are reputable?

Accuracy
The source should contain accurate and up-to-date information that can be verified by other sources.

  • Can facts or statistics be verified through another source?
  • Based on your knowledge, does the information seem accurate? Does it match the information found in other sources?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

Scope / Relevance
It is important that the source meets the information needs and requirements of your research assignment.

  • Does the source cover your topic comprehensively or does it cover only one aspect?
  • To what extent does the source answer your research question?
  • Is the source considered popular or scholarly?
  • Is the terminology and language used easy to understand?
Currency / Date
Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly. It is important to determine if currency is pertinent to your research.
  • When was the source written and published?
  • Has the information been updated recently?
  • Is currency pertinent to your research?
Objectivity / Bias / Reliability
Every author has an opinion. Recognizing this is instrumental in determining if the information presented is objective or biased. 
  • What is the purpose or motive for the source (educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the author pretending to be objective, but really trying to persuade, promote or sell something?

Style / Functionality
Style and functionality may be of lesser concern. However, if the source is not well-organized, its value is diminished.

  • Is the source well-written and organized?
  • To what extent is it professional looking?
  • If it is a website, can you navigate around easily?
  • If it is a website, are links broken?

Further Reading

The Little Seagull Handbook

Evaluating Sources

  • Considering Whether a Source Might Be Useful  ​
    pp. 93-94
  • Reading Sources with a Critical Eye
    pp. 94-95 
  • Key Elements of a Rhetorical Analysis
    pp. 49-50
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