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Guide to the Research Process: 3a. Evaluate Sources

This guide provides an introduction to the skills needed to conduct research, with particular reference to the field of education.

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

When doing research, you are likely to use a variety of sources such as books; articles from newspapers, magazines, or journals; and websites. To ensure that you are including only valid information in your research, evaluate your sources using the criteria below.

Criteria Questions to Ask

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 credible.

  • Who is the author (person, company, or organization)?
  • Does the source provide any information that leads you to believe the author is an expert on the topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution?
  • Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies?

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?

Scope / Relevance
It is important that the source meets the information needs and requirements of your research topic.

  • 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Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly.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 material created, published, or last updated?
  • Have more recent articles been published on the topic?
  • Are links or references to other sources up-to-date?
Objectivity / Bias / Reliability
Every author has an opinion. Recognizing this is instrumental in determining if the information presented is objective or biased. 
  • What is the purpose or motive for the source (educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience - the general public? the educated layperson? professionals? practitioners? scholars?
  • Is a balanced view of different perspectives on the topic presented?
  • Is the author pretending to be objective, but really trying to persuade, promote, or sell something?
  • Are important facts or data that might disprove a claim omitted?
  • Is strong or emotional language used?

Style / Functionality
Style and functionality may be of lesser concern. However, if the source is not well-organized, its value is diminished.

  • Is the material well-written and organized?
  • Does it contain a table of contents and/or index to facilitate use?
  • Does it include a bibliography?
  • Does it contain graphs, tables, charts, illustrations, photographs, maps, or other special features that add to its usefulness
  • If it is a website, can you navigate around easily?
  • If it is a website, are links broken?