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  • If you use poor quality sources, your research paper could contain errors, overly-biased information or out-of-date facts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"? 

an image that reads "Evaluate your sources"

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 or lived experience)?
  • 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?

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

decorative image of a computer screen with an arrow, indicating a download

Evaluation Criteria Checklist

Click below to download your own copy of the checklist

Assess your Information Sources with SIFT

SIFT Evaluation Tool

Use the technique of Lateral Reading to Validate Claims and Sources

(click on image to enlarge)

SIFT: Stop. Investigate. Find a better Source. Trace back to Source

This work is licensed under a creative commons attribution license.

Step 1: Stop

Ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website.

  • If you don’t, use the other fact-checking moves that follow, to get a better sense of what you’re looking at.
  • In other words, don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable.
Step 2: Investigate the Source

When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating.

  • Leave that source and see what others have said about the source.
  • Piece together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source you’re investigating.
Step 3: If needed, find better or more appropriate coverage.

What if the source you find is low-quality, or you can’t determine if it is reliable or not?

  • You want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement.
  • Your best strategy in this case might actually be to find a better source altogether, to look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim. 
Step 4: Track the source back to the original.

What if you feel uncertain about the "full story" of a fact or claim, or you suspect someone might want to mislead you (as when controversial issues are presented)?

  • Trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented.

Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

SIFT infographic-CCby

Graphic created by Suzanne Sannwald based on Mike Caulfield's work on SIFT. Creative Commons Attribution License.