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Evaluating Sources - Maple Woods

Determine whether the sources you use for research are reliable and appropriate for your paper or speech

Evaluating Sources

With more information than ever at our fingertips, being able to properly evaluate information is an essential skill. This is especially true when conducting academic research. This guide will help you ask the right questions so that you can ensure your sources are high-quality, timely, and relevant. 

What does Peer-Reviewed Mean?

A peer-reviewed publication is also often referred to as a scholarly journal. These articles are generally written by experts in the field. Authors then submit their article to a scholarly journal where it undergoes a peer review process before publication. This means other experts in the field review the author's research in order to ensure quality and accuracy. Our library databases have filters that enable you to view only results from scholarly sources.

It's Important to Evaluate Your Sources

When conducting research you will want to make sure the source is relevant and reliable. Asking some basic questions can help you quickly determine if a source is appropriate for your needs.

Relevance

  • Does it answer you research question? Read the abstract or a summary to learn what the article is about before taking a deeper dive.
  • Is the work scholarly or popular? If your instructor asks for scholarly sources, you will need peer reviewed journal articles, which can be found in the library databases.
  • Who is the intended audience? If you are preparing a speech for a college level class, you would want to avoid articles written for middle-schoolers. 
  • What is the purpose of the source? Is it to sell a product, educate, persuade, or entertain? Sources that have an obvious agenda should be avoided in most instances.
  • When was the article published? It is generally best to use up-to-date information when conducting research. For example, an article from 1975 about current surgical best practices would not provide current, relevant information on this topic. 

Reliability

  • What are the author's credentials? Are they an expert on the topic? A quick web search can usually answer these questions.
  • Can you trace the information to it's original source? It's always best to use the original source of the information for your research. For example, if a website is using information from the CDC's website, use the CDC as your source instead. 
  • Is there obvious bias? When articles use sensational headlines and language, this is often a red flag that the author has an agenda and the information is most likely unreliable. Remember, anyone can publish anything on the internet!
  • Does the author provide their sources? When an author cites their sources they are not only crediting the original source, but also allowing the reader to trace the information to where it came from. 
  • Does the author or organization receive funding from sponsors? Sponsorship is not always an issue, but you should be aware of outside interests. For example, an article that argues smoking is healthy that is put out by a tobacco company is probably not a good source.

Remember...

  • Always be critical of information you find on the internet. Anyone can publish anything online, so fact-checking is crucial.
  • If using a source from the open web, don't forget to save the link as it will still need to be cited.
  • Ask yourself if your source is appropriate for your assignment. 
  • Scholarly articles will 
  • When in doubt, ask a librarian!

SIFT (The Four Moves)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

SIFT (The Four Moves) infographic by Mike Caulfield

Image Text: 

Stop
Investigate the source
Find better coverage
Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context

Stop

Do you know and trust the source of the information? If you answered no, use the next steps to learn more about what you are looking at.

 

Investigate the Source

It’s important to know the context of the information you are reviewing. Is the author or source reputable in their field? Generally, a quick web search can give you a good idea as to the expertise and agenda of the source.

 

Find Better Coverage

Sometimes you might be unsure of a source, but would like to investigate the claim. If a claim is true, there will be plenty of trusted sources that can corroborate the information.

 

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context

There are times when a source only paints a portion of the picture. In these cases, you will want to trace the information back to where it originated. In academic research, we cite our sources so that anyone can trace our research back to the source.