Evaluating your sources
Before using a source, you should consider its quality. Use the categories and questions below to help you evaluate sources that you find on the web or other locations.
Accuracy and quality refer to the correctness, truthfulness, and overall excellence of the information. Consider these questions:
- Is the information logical, well-organized, and supported by evidence?
- Has it been edited or peer reviewed?
- Is it free from errors – both content errors and spelling/grammar errors?
- If it's a website, is it professional in appearance? Has time and care gone into its presentation?
Authority refers to the author or other source of the information. Consider these questions:
- Who is the author? What are the author's credentials? With which organizations is the author affiliated? Has biographical information been provided? Has the author supplied his/her contact information?
- What is the publisher or sponsoring organization? Sometimes the authority comes not from a single author, but from a reputable organization or publisher.
- If it's a website, what does the URL ending reveal about the source (e.g., .gov indicates a government source)?
Purpose refers to the reason for which the author has produced the information, and objectivity refers to a straight presentation of information without prejudice. Consider these questions:
- What are the author or producer's goals and intentions? What are you being sold?
- Does the information consist mostly of facts or does it contain opinion? Is the author upfront about stating any affiliations of importance? If the information contains an argument or opinion, then are opposing arguments or opinions recognized and addressed?
- Is the author biased in his/her views? Or does the author present information in a way that is fair and balanced? Does the source contain strong language or images designed to arouse certain emotions? Is the author making assumptions that are having an effect on the fair presentation of information?
Corroboration and coverage refer to the thoroughness and consistency of the information. Consider these questions:
- Does the source contain enough information? Is it thorough?
- Does it reference other sources? If so, can you look at the original sources and verify them?
- Does it build on what has come before? If it's a website, does it contain appropriate links to other information?
- Is it consistent with other information? Does it confirm what you know or have read about in other sources?
Currency refers to whether the information has been recently produced. Consider these questions:
- How important is recent information to your topic? How far back in time is acceptable?
- When was the information published?
- If it is a website, has it been updated since its original publication? Do the links work? Is it a "current" looking page?
Relevance refers to how well the source meets your information needs. Consider these questions:
- How closely does the information source relate to your topic?
- At what level has the information been produced? For what kind of audience has the information been created? You don’t want to use information that is too far below or above your level (e.g., for children).
- At how many other sources have you looked? If you stop at the first two or three things you find, then you may not be getting the most relevant information.