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.SOURCES: Evaluating Sources

Explains characteristics of different types of sources of information

Evaluating Sources

In the age of the Internet, many people can provide information in a variety of formats. You need to evaluate each source you look at. Is the source valid and reliable?

  • Relevance: Does it help you with your information need? Is it relevant to what you want to know?
  • Timeliness: When was the source published or posted? If it is a website, when was it last updated? Avoid using undated Web sites and sources. 
  • Accuracy: Is the information presented correct? Have you detected any errors or mistakes? Take care not to confuse "mistakes" with "interpretations different from your own with which you disagree."
  • Authority: Who is responsible for the source? What information can you find about the organization or authors? How do you know that the authors know what they're talking about? What credentials do they have?
  • Purpose: Is the information presented objectively? What are the authors trying to do? Are they trying to sell something? Are they trying to support a bias, opinion, or perspective? Does the author reflect a certain philosophy? Are they trying to get you to vote a certain way or perform a certain behavior?
  • Scope: What is the depth and breadth of the source? Is is an overview of the topic or is it focused on only one aspect of your topic? Does the breadth of the work match your information need? Will you need to find additional sources to provide missing information?
  • Audience: Who is the intended audience for this source? Is it too basic or too advanced? Is the material too technical or too clinical?
  • Documentation: Are there references, notes, bibliographies, or other citations of information sources that indicate where the author obtained the information? Are those sources credible?

After considering these factors, if you're still not sure, ask a professor or a librarian.

How to Evaluate Search Results

Subject Guide

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Shelley Arvin
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