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Critically Evaluating Sources

You should evaluate each source you are considering using in your research to ensure that the material is credible and suits your research needs.
Look to the Surface-Level Evaluation and Content Evaluation tabs to learn more about how to assess the credibility of sources.
Below are some sample sources you can practice evaluating according to the criteria listed in this guide.

 

For each source that you are considering incorporating in your research, look to some basic citation information and ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether the source is credible and fit to utilize:


Author

  • What types of credentials does the author have?
    • Are they affiliated with an institution, like a university, governmental agency, or organization? What is the reputation and values of said institution?
    • What is their educational background?
    • Do they have previous works? Are they often cited in their field?
    • What other experiences, whether professional, educational, or otherwise, do they have that may affect their authority on a given subject?
  • Is the author's area of expertise relevant to the topic of the source?

Publication Date

  • Is it current or out-of-date for your topic?
    • Keep in mind that some disciplines value currency more than others. For instance, the sciences typically favor more current sources of information whereas the humanities value and frequently require the incorporation of material produced at an earlier time - context is key!
  • Since the original publication date, have there been updates to, revisions of, or new editions of the material that reflect new information?

Journal/Periodical

  • What type of journal/periodical is the material published in? Is it popular or scholarly?
    • Identifying this information can be a good indicator of the purpose and depth of the material as well as the intended audience.
  • Does the journal/periodical require material go through an editing process before being published?

Publisher

  • Who is the publisher of the source?
  • What is the reputation of the publisher?
  • Does the publisher have a political or economic agenda?

"Critically Evaluating Sources: Surface Level Evaluation" is adapted from "Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis" by Research & Learning Services of Olin Library at Cornell University Library, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

Creative Commons License
"Critically Evaluating Sources: Surface Level Evaluation" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence by Liz Dunne.

After conducting a surface-level evaluation and reading a source, it's time to analyze the content of the source.

Look to the following aspects of the content and ask yourself the corresponding questions to evaluate whether or not and how you'd like to incorporate the material in your research.


Purpose

  • Is the information presented in the work meant to inform, entertain, or persuade?
  • Are the author's intentions made clear?
  • What audience is the author primarily addressing? Does the source cater to a specialized/academic audience or a more general audience?
    • Discerning the intended audience will help you evaluate whether the source is too advanced, too elementary, or well-suited for your research needs and the audience you are writing to.

Relevance & Coverage

  • Does the information contained in the source relate to your research topic or attempt to answer questions similar to the ones you are investigating?
  • Does the work substantiate other materials you have read or does it deviate from the majority of works in the field?
  • What new information does the work add to the field?
  • What gaps in the research and suggestions for future research does the work suggest?
  • Is the work a primary or secondary source?
    • This will affect the scope of the material and the level of engagement with other materials.

Objectivity& Accuracy

  • What biases (political, cultural, ideological, personal, etc.) exist in the work?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Is the information well-researched, verifiable, or supported by evidence?
  • Are any assumptions made reasonable?

Writing Style

  • Is the material organized in a logical way?
  • Are the main ideas clearly expressed?
  • Is the work free of spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors?

 


"Critically Evaluating Sources: Content Analysis" is adapted from "Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis" by Research & Learning Services of Olin Library at Cornell University Library, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

 

Creative Commons License
"Critically Evaluating Sources: Surface Level Evaluation" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence by Liz Dunne.

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