Reference and Instructional Services Department

Evaluating Sources

Once you have gathered sources with content that is relevant to your topic, it is vital that you evaluate those sources for their quality and trustworthiness. Useful books and articles will support your research with reliable information.

  • Are your sources accurate and reliable? Check for footnotes and/or a list of references. These references should substantiate statements made by the author.

  • Is the author objective? Look for signs that the author is unbiased and objective. If the author is a spokesperson for a particular interest group or is expressing a personal opinion, take that into account when evaluating the source.

  • Is the author competent? Does the source provide information about the author? Does the author have the credentials to be an authority on the subject?

  • Who published the book or article? Publishers of professional and scholarly books and articles make sure that the information in those sources is reliable. Many scholarly journals have a rigorous review process in which scholars in the field review the article prior to publication. This process is known as "peer review". Popular publications such as newspapers and magazines can still be useful but should be evaluated carefully for accuracy.

  • Are your sources current? Depending upon your topic, you may need the most recent information available. Check the date of publication and see if there are references to current statistics, findings, or events.

Sources on the Internet can pose special problems for evaluation. This is especially true because anyone can create and publish online content, meaning that the best information is often found alongside the very worst misinformation. For each website you consider using as a source for your assignments, you may wish to use the following criteria:


Criteria Questions to ask to determine site quality:
Authorship & Publisher
  • Can I tell who the author is? Does the site give biographical information on the author that establishes his/her authority, or provide a link to his/her resume or CV?
  • Do I know from my own studies that the author is an authority on the subject? (Example: I know Alan Greenspan is an economics expert.)
  • Can I tell what organization is responsible for hosting this site?  Is that organization a known authority on the subject?
  • Was this page linked to by another site that is authoritative?
Purpose & Intended Audience
  • Is the page’s purpose easily identifiable?
  • Is its purpose appropriate for college-level research? (Example: A satirical web site may not be appropriate to use as a source for a research paper about election issues.)
  • Is the target audience of the page easily identifiable through graphic or written cues and is this audience appropriate for college-level research? (Example: a site targeting a high-school audience may not be appropriate for use in an academic research paper.)
Objectivity & Point of View
  • Does the page contain or link to websites that display multiple viewpoints?
  • Is the page’s language objective, appealing to reason rather than emotion?
  • Does the site’s URL indicate that it resides on the server of an organization that does not have a specific political or philosophical agenda? (Example: If you are doing research on gun control, you may need to weigh carefully information found at
Accuracy & Referral to Other Literature
  • Does the document include a bibliography and proper citation?
  • If the author is proposing a new theory, does s/he discuss its limitations as well as its strengths?
  • Can items stated as facts be verified in other sources?
  • If the site is publicizing research or an empirical study, does it contain an explanation of the research methods used?
  • If the site is expressing a controversial theory, does it state that it is controversial?
Currency & Timeliness
  • Does the page include a clear copyright, publication or “last-updated” date?
  • Do all of the links on the page work?
  • Does the document refer to clearly dated information? (Example: “Figures are based upon the 2012 Quinnipiac Opinion Poll”.)

More Information
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