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Evaluate your sources
When choosing books, articles, websites, and other sources to use for your research, evaluate them to determine whether and how to use them.
The timeliness of the information:
- When was the information published or posted?
- Does the time period that the information was published matter in relation to your topic?
- When was the information last revised? (online often found in the footer area of websites)
- If reviewing a web source, are the links current or are they broken?
Relevance or Coverage
The importance of the information in relation to your topic:
- What is the depth of coverage? Is the information provided central to your topic or does the source just touch upon your topic?
- Is the information unique?
- Who is the intended audience? Basically, is the information at the appropriate level for your research or does it target a different type of audience?
- Is better information available in another source?
Consider the source:
- Can you tell who wrote it? If the author is not identified who is the sponsor, publisher, or organization behind the information?
- Are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations listed?
- Is contact information available?
- Is the source reputable?
The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational content:
- Where does the information presented come from? Are the sources listed?
- Are the sources reputable?
- Can you verify the information in other sources or from your own knowledge? Corroborate!
- Does the language or tone seem free of bias or ideologically based arguments?
The reason the information exists:
- What is the purpose of the information? Inform? Teach? Sway opinion? Sell? Entertain?
- Can you determine possible bias? If you can are they clearly stated or do they become apparent through a close reading?
- Does the point of view appear objective?
- Does the site provide information or does it attempt to debunk other information? (Weighing positive evidence versus negative evidence)
Wikipedia is a tool that can be useful for your research as long as you understand how to use it and its limitations.
- It is an encyclopedia, which is a reference source, and is meant to provide you with background information so that you can move on and find more in-depth information (usually in articles or books). You should not be citing encyclopedias in your papers, but rather getting your information from articles, books, and other sources with in-depth information.
- It’s edited by a community that is not diverse (over 90% male and primarily from North America) and so key perspectives may be missing. See this article: Boboltz, S. (2017, December 6). Editors are trying to fix Wikipedia’s gender and racial bias problem. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/wikipedia-gender-racial-bias_n_7054550
- It’s edited by a community and so relevant information or key sources may be missing or incorrect.
- For example, the Wikipedia page on witch hunts, as of January 24, 2020, presented the topic as if it were a gender neutral issue, without mention of sexism. In contrast, the entry from the Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice found in the UCC Library's Credo Reference database, does discuss this as a central aspect of this issue (which it is). This is an example of an important aspect of a topic being omitted, without which, the issue really can't be understood.
What is it useful for?
- Background information (vocabulary and key ideas about a topic) as long as you understand the limitations above and then go on to consult more credible and in-depth sources.
- Finding links to other sources as long as you understand that links to relevant sources may be missing and also search the Web and the Library for other relevant and credible sources.
Evaluating U.S. Government Information
Data We Trust—But What Data?
This short article provides tips for evaluating U.S. Government data and information under the Trump Administration.
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Except where otherwise noted, content in these research guides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.