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COMS 132 - D. Sweet: Evaluating Sources

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Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly.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?

Evaluating Web Information

Here are some basic questions to consider as you evaluate information, especially the online resources you found with a search engine.  Do not hesitate to ask you instructor or librarian for help in evaluating the merits of a web source.

  • What is the domain of the site? Is it .edu (educational institution), .com (commercial), or .org (federal or non-profit organization)? After you have identified the domain, you can better determine who actually created the site.
  • What is the function of the site? Is it informational? Does it advertise a product? Does it advocate a point of view? Is it personal opinion?
  • What is the form of the information? Is it a well-organized page or site? Is it in the form of a journal article or similar print resource? Is it a collection of commentaries or opinions?
  • Can you tell who the author is? Are any credentials listed, such as academic degrees, current positions/job titles, or background experience in the topic?
  • Can you corroborate the information you have found by finding the same information in other sources (online or print)? You can use this method to address any controversial questions you may have found when you began to compare your sources of information.
  • How do you plan to use the information in your paper? Does it support your thesis? Does it challenge your thesis? Can you find a scholarly conversation that addresses your topic from different viewpoints? Can you integrate the information with the other sources you plan to use?
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