The following are some good guidelines for recognizing what type of source (scholarly, popular, political, etc.) you are reading and for evaluating its relevance and usefulness to your topic and your research process in general. Rather than used as a checklist, these seven points are considerations to make and questions to ask when evaluating a source or piece of information.
1. Authorship - who is the creator?
2. Currency - when was this information first made available?
3. Publishing Format - in what form is this information accessed?
4. Point of View or Bias - what background and opinions inform the author's arguments?
5. References to Other Sources - who does the author cite to support their arguments?
6. Relevance to Topic and Assignment
7. Organization and Appearance - what do the visual cues of the source tell you?
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- Who wrote the information? The author's authority is dependent upon information presented and format used.
- What are his or her credentials and professional affiliation? As noted above, authority is not always tied to credentials and degrees.
- If there isn't an author listed, is the information authored by a government, corporate, or non-profit agency? Is the agency or organization recognized in the field in which you are studying, and is it suitable to address your topic?
- Does your topic require current information?
- Does the source include a date of publication or a "last updated" date?
3. Publishing Format
- Is the article from a mass media/popular magazine, a substantive news source, or a scholarly journal?
- Can you tell who the intended audience of the periodical is (general readers, experts, practitioners, etc.)?
- Is the purpose of the periodical to inform, educate, persuade, entertain, sell, etc.?
- Does it have a particular editorial slant?
- Is the book published by an academic press or a commercial publisher? Is it self-published?
- If a commercial publisher, do they publish primarily scholarly or popular books?
- To what domain does the site belong (edu, gov, org, com, net, etc.), and is this information important for your assessment of a site?
- Is the name of the individual or organization responsible for the overall site provided? Is there a link to information about their mission or purpose?
- In general, popular sources do not require extensive prior knowledge of a topic. Scholarly sources assume a greater level of sophistication and knowledge on the part of the reader.
4. Point of View or Bias
- Is the information provided as fact or opinion?
- Is there a missing point of view from a particular group or identity?
- What kind of evidence is provided?
- Is the information consistent with information from other sources?
*For more information about bias specific to news/media, the following is a useful resource: How to Detect Bias in the News from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
5. References to Other Sources
- Does the source include a bibliography or links to other web sites?
- What types of sources are cited (primary/secondary, popular/scholarly, current/historical, etc.)
6. Relevance to Topic or Assignment
- Is the language and approach suitable to your level of expertise on the subject?
- What are your biases or assumptions on this subject and your expectations for the source?
- Does the source provide information that supports or challenges your point of view? Does it verify information from other sources you're using?
7. Organization and Appearance
- Does the individual source or overall work include:
- Table of contents and/or index
- Graphics - photographs, charts, tables, images