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Evaluating Sources: Criteria

Authority

Authority is concerned with how knowledgeable an author is on the particular subject he or she is writing about. Some questions to ask to determine whether your source is authoritative are:

  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Does the author have expertise on the subject?
  • What degree(s) does the author hold? From what college or university?
  • Is the author a member of professional organizations?
  • Are they affiliated with any of the following: a university or college, government agency, publisher or press, or their own company?

Look at the source to see if it tells you anything about the author's credentials. Much of this information should be listed or a contact number supplied.

Many Internet sources do not give the identity or credentials of the author or producer. These Web sites may have questionable reliability.

Timeliness

Timeliness is concerned with how timely a source is in relation to your topic. For some topics, such as medicine, science, business, and technology the most current information will be best. For some topics, such as historical topics, finding information published around the time of the historical event would be best. Ask yourself:

  • When was the information published?
  • When was the web site last updated?

An older site may no longer be maintained and contain dated information and bad links.

Documentation

Documentation is concerned with how traceable a source's information is. Can you find the origin of the information presented in your source? Ask yourself:

  • Does the author refer to or cite other works?
  • Does the Web page provide related links?
  • Is a bibliography provided?
  • Does the author support statements with data or references?

In many publications, adequate documentation is not provided. The popular press rarely provides complete references where one could find further information. Internet sites may be even more guilty of this. If your source has no listed sources of its own,it may be a sign that the information is made up or incorrect.

Purpose & Audience

Purpose & Audience are concerned with matching people to the right information for them. Most writing is initially aimed at a particular audience or has a purpose. The purpose and intended audience may not be explicitly stated. You as the reader may have to infer what the purpose and intended audience are. Ask yourself:

  • Is the information presented intended to inform, persuade, present opinions, report research, or sell a product?
  • For what audience is it intended? The general public, professionals, students?
  • Is it popular or scholarly?
  • Does it show any bias?

It is a good idea to consider these questions when evaluating a resources for purpose and audience. Just because a website is aimed at consumers, doesn't mean it can't be used as a source in your research paper. You just need to consider that fact when deciding what appropriate role, if any, it can play in your research.

How can I find out?

Determine whether the Web site is produced by an organization and if so, the purpose or mission of that organization. 
You can usually determine by careful reading if the purpose is to sell a product or promote a particular point of view.

Review Process

Scholarly publications, even those published on the Web, are typically peer reviewed. Peer review is a process where scholarly articles are reviewed by other experts before they are published in a journal. The process is rigorous. Most popular publications are not peer reviewed.

  • Was there any review process at all?
  • Was it critically reviewed after it was written?

Many Internet sources are not reviewed before being posted; however, most government, educational, and organizational sites have some sort of review process. If no review process is stated or evident, assume there is none. Journals, both online and print, almost always state their review process.

Suitability

Suitability is concerned with being the right information for your needs. To determine whether a source is suitable, ask yourself:

  • Does the source contain the information you need?
  • Is it written at a level you can understand?

Read the source. Does the information have a place within your topic and organizational outline? Assess the topic and the audience that it is aimed at to make sure the purpose and audience are appropriate.