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Critically Evaluating Sources

It's good practice to evaluate each source you are considering using to ensure the material is credible and suits your research needs.

You can use the processes and guiding questions listed in the following sections to determine whether potential sources are relevant to your needs and if you feel comfortable using them in your research!

Parts of the content contained on this page have been adapted, with changes, from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (The Four Moves) under a CC BY 4.0 License.

Before you begin evaluating the content of a piece, stop and determine:

  • Does the information relate to your research topic or attempt to answer questions similar to the ones you are investigating? If it isn't relevant, close that tab and move on to another source!
  • Do you know enough about where the source is coming from? If you don't know the basics about who created the material and why, then move onto the "Investigate the Source" step to gather that important info!
  • Ask yourself the following questions about the author:
    • What types of credentials do they have?
      • What experiences, whether professional, educational, or personal, lived experiences as a participant or witness, do they have that may affect their expertise on the given subject?
      • Are they affiliated with an institution, like a university, governmental agency, or organization? What are the reputation and values of said institution?
      • Do they have previous works on the topic? Are they often cited in their field? What factors may be impacting how often they are cited?
    • What biases (political, ideological, implicit, etc.) may the author have and how are those reflected in their work? Does the author acknowledge these biases?
  • Ask yourself the following questions about the publication:
    • What type of journal/periodical is the material published in? Does it cater to a specialized/academic audience or a more general audience?
    • Does the journal/periodical require material go through an editing process before being published?
    • Who is the publisher of the source?
      • What is the reputation of the publisher?
      • Does the publisher have a political or economic agenda?
      • If the publication is for-profit, what does the publisher do with those profits?

Nobody likes a game of telephone! If a source includes a citation you are interested in, it's best practice not to make an indirect citation. Instead, try to go directly to the original source of information you are trying to incorporate in your research. Reading the information in its original context will give you a sense as to whether other sources are accurately portraying and fairly representing it.

  • Is the information well-researched, verifiable, or supported by evidence?
  • Is the methodology sound?
  • Are the assessment measures employed reliable and valid?
  • Are any assumptions made reasonable?
  • Are the conclusions drawn substantiated?
  • Are any limitations acknowledged?
  • 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?
  • Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic?
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