Selecting and Evaluating Sources

Selecting sources to use in an assignment requires careful evaluation. Critical thinkers (you!) must analyze the data retrieved — whether you find it in the physical library, a library database or on the free internet.

See also: How to Evaluate a Wikipedia Article via UC Davis Libraries

Tips for selecting and evaluating sources

  • Remember to be aware of your own viewpoints and how they affect your research
  • Look for bias on the part of authors or publishers
  • Look for alternative viewpoints on your topic: Remember when you gathered background data?
  • Be aware of publishing dates: Research in some subject areas goes “stale” faster than others (medical research vs. history research)
  • Analyze literature reviews and bibliographies of the sources you select in order to identify key authors and publications debating your topic

Other tips to try out on sources: The CRAAP Test and Skimming/Scanning

Currency: The timeliness of the information. When was the information published or posted? Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs. Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? Who is the intended audience? Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)? Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use? Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: The source of the information. Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? Are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations given?​ Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Think .com, .edu, .gov, .org and .net. Note: Now domain names are growing to include complete customization.

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content. Where does the information come from? Is the information supported by evidence? Has the information been reviewed or refereed? Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge? Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion? Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists. What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade? Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear? Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

(via Meriam Library at California State University, Chico:

There is not enough time in the day to closely read and comprehend all of the sources you retrieve during the research process. You can skim the main ideas to get an overall impression of an article. Recall that many scholarly articles follow structural formats and include:

  • Abstracts
  • Introductions
  • Figures and illustrations
  • Discussion sections
  • Conclusions

By skimming an article and scanning for keywords related to your specific information need, you can make a judgment call about whether you should read the article more thoroughly. Articles, especially those in the science and medical fields, can be dense. Like learning any foreign language, it’s helpful to have subject dictionaries and other reference works nearby when attacking a particularly difficult article.

Adapted from the University of Guelph’s (very helpful) video, How to Read an Article.