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The Research Process: A How-To Guide: 6. Evaluate Your Sources

This guide walks you through the seven steps of the research process.

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Why Evaluate?

Evaluating your sources is an essential step that sometimes gets overlooked.  Here are some reasons why it's important:

  • Did your instructor ask you to use scholarly sources only?  If so, you need to confirm that all your sources are scholarly in nature.  Use this chart to help.
  • Are any of your sources biased?  For example, the websites of corporations or advocacy groups may not give you the whole truth.  Many newspapers and magazines also exhibit bias in their reporting.  It may be fine to use these sources, as long as you acknowledge their potential bias in your paper.
  • Do all your sources take the same point of view on an issue?  Unless you are writing an argumentative paper, it is important to consider differing viewpoints in your paper.
  • Does the author of a source use an appropriate methodology and draw reasonable conclusions from his or her study?  See if you notice possible red flags with the assumptions, statistics, or conclusions.  You should address these issues in your paper when citing the study.

Evaluation Criteria

Although it is important to evaluate all your sources, it is especially crucial for information found on the Internet, where there is often no fact-checking or editorial control.  Examine your sources carefully using the following criteria:

1.  Accuracy

  • As far as you can tell, is the information presented free of errors and omissions?
  • Are there footnotes?  This would suggest that the information can be traced.

2.  Authority

  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Does he or she have expertise on the subject being discussed?
  • For websites, check the "About Us" page to see if the organization has credentials.
  • Documents on .gov, .edu, or .org domains tend to have more credibility than documents on .com or .net domains.

3.  Objectivity

  • Does the source only present one side of an argument, or use inflammatory language?
  • For websites, check the "About Us" page to see if the organization or author may have an agenda that would influence how they present the facts.

4.  Currency

  • Does the source seem up-to-date enough for the topic and for the needs of your paper?
  • Does the time frame covered meet your research needs?
  • For websites, check for a "last updated" date.

5.  Coverage

  • Is the author's treatment of the material broad or narrow?
  • Does the author provide sufficient detail?
  • Are footnotes and references to additional reading provided?