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Research Guides

FAQ: How do I know if my sources are credible/reliable?

Short, simple how-to and demos of frequently asked questions about using the Libraries and information resources

Overview

UW Libraries has a whole guide, Savvy Info Consumers: Evaluating Information, which discusses different types of sources and how to approach evaluating their credibility/reliability.

What it means for a source to be credible/reliable can vary depending on the context of its use. Generally, a credible or reliable source is one that experts in your subject domain would agree is valid for your purposes. This can vary, so it is best to use one of the source evaluation methods that best fits your needs. Do remember that credibility is contextual!

It is important to critically evaluate sources because using credible/reliable sources makes you a more informed writer. Think about unreliable sources as pollutants to your credibility, if you include unreliable sources in your work, your work could lose credibility as a result.

Frameworks

There are certain frameworks that information professionals have put together to help people think critically about the information provided. 

Some of the methods that UW Libraries suggest are: 

5 W Questions (5Ws): This method means thinking critically about each of your sources by answering five questions to determine if the source is credible/reliable. The acceptable answers to these questions will vary depending on your needs. The questions are:

  • Who is the author? (Authority)
  • What is the purpose of the content? (Accuracy)
  • Where is the content from? (Publisher)
  • Why does the source exist? (Purpose and Objectivity)
  • How does this source compare to others? (Determining What’s What)

 

SMART Check: This method is particularly good at evaluating newspaper sources. Like the 5Ws method it also involves answering critical questions about your source. The criteria are:

  • Source: Who or what is the source?
  • Motive: Why do they say what they do?
  • Authority: Who wrote the story?
  • Review: Is there anything included that jumps out as potentially untrue?
  • Two-Source Test: How does it compare to another source?

 

CRAAP Test: This method provides you with a set of criteria that make a source more or less credible. The criteria are:

  • Currency: Timeliness of the information
  • Relevance: Importance of the information for your needs
  • Authority: Source of the information
  • Accuracy: Truthfulness and correctness of the information
  • Purpose: Reason the information exists

Additional Help

If you would like personalized support from UW Libraries on source evaluation you can

  1. Make an appointment with a librarian at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center
  2. Ask Us! Chat with a librarian live or email your question