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How to Evaluate Sources
What kind of information do you need? If you are writing for a class assignment, you may be required to use peer-reviewed ("refereed") or scholarly sources. In any case, you should always look for sources that are authoritative.
Scholarly Checklist--Look for:
- Authors listed, with credentials
- Bibliography, references, or works cited
- Reviewed by peers or experts in the subject
- Published by a reputable publisher
- Purpose is to inform or impart knowledge, not to sell, persuade, entertain
- Appears impartial--few or no advertisements, no emotional language, unbiased
- Includes data, observations, statistics, or graphics to support conclusions
- Includes specialized or technical language or concepts
Authoritative--A source can have authority even if it isn't scholarly.
- Author and/or publisher is an expert on the subject, for example:
- Manufacturer's catalogs
- Legal or regulatory information
- Author's affiliations and contact information are available
- Publisher or sponsoring organization is reputable (e.g., for websites, look for the domain; .gov or .edu sites are more likely to contain unbiased information)
- Cites scholarly or high-quality sources in references list/bibliography
Other Criteria-- these are not definitive, but worthy of consideration:
- Do you see errors in spelling, grammar, data?
- Is the publication in turn cited by other credible works published later?
- How current is the information (no date? be suspicious)?
View Evaluating Sources for Credibility, a 3-minute video produced by NCSU Libraries
The Web vs. Library Tools
Although you can find high-quality information through web search engines, using library tools such as the catalog and databases may help you find information sources more efficiently.
|Web Search Engines
|Search the worldwide web; much is unpublished; quality of information varies from one page to the next
||Search published materials, selected for scholarliness and high quality
|Usually no features for saving search results
||Researcher tools allow you to save search results, email, print, generate citations, etc.
|May be difficult to narrow search results to hone in on what you want
||Features are available to narrow search results by topic, format, date, etc.
|Web pages may be "here today, gone tomorrow," information on webpages may change overnight
||Published work has stability; publisher takes responsibility for any updates or error correction
|Social networking (comments on articles, e.g.) allows you to get an idea of the state of current conversation about an issue
||Published materials tend to be more static
|Good for reading news, current events
||Good for finding scholarly and authoritative works on a topic
|Very current information can be found
||Publication process takes awhile; information is weeks or months old
Evaluating Sources for Credibility