Why Should I Evaluate My Sources?
As a researcher you will navigate a vast amount of information from a variety of sources, including but not limited to books, journals, and the Internet. Not everything you find is appropriate to use in your research paper. Because as a researcher you should aspire to become an expert on the topic of your choice, you need to consider whether the information you are finding is reliable, valid, authoritative, relevant, and current.
What Questions Should I Ask?
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Currency: The timeliness of the information.
- When was the information published or posted?
- Has the information been revised or updated?
- Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
- If you found the information on the web, are the links functional?
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?
- What are the author's credentials or oganizational affiliations given?
- What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
- Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
- If you found the information on the web, does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational 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 unbiased 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?
The above list is not static or complete. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.
Why Can't I Use Wikipedia?
Watch a segment from Stephen Colbert's show to understand why your professors discourage you from using Wikipedia for your research assignments.