Library Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

Use this guide to learn more about the research process

Step 3a: Evaluate by specific criterion

Why evaluate sources?

Your academic career and personal reputation depend on it!

  • If you use poor quality sources, your research paper could contain errors, overly-biased information or out-of-date facts
  • Instructors will check your sources to see if you have made good decisions about where you found your information
  • Knowing how to evaluate will help you make better decisions in other areas of your life, such as:
    finding accurate medical information, voting on issues during election time, presenting reliable information to your coworkers in a meeting...etc.

After reviewing the table and checklist, continue on to step 3b to learn more about how to Distinguish Between Popular / Scholarly Sources

Evaluate your sources using the following criteria

How do you know if you have a "good source"? 

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Use the criteria below to determine the quality of ALL YOUR SOURCES

(books, articles, videos, audio programs, and especially websites...etc.)

 

If your source fails to meet a lot of the criteria listed below, look for another, better source.

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)?
  • Is the author reputable or well-known? (what is their experience, expertise, education, knowledge)?
  • Does the author provide citations as to where they obtained their own information?
  • For websites, do sections like "About Us" or "Who We Are" give you more detailed information about the organization or author?
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?
  • For websites, do other reliable websites link to this one?
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 important 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. 

  • Why is this information being published?  Who benefits?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Can you determine if the author or organization has a particular political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
  • What is the purpose of the information?  To inform, teach, sell, entertain, persuade?
  • For web sources, what is the domain (.edu, .gov, .com, .org, .net)? 
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?
  • For websites, can you navigate around easily?
  • For websites, are links broken?

Your criteria checklist

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Evaluation Criteria Checklist

Click below to download your own copy of the checklist