Evaluating Sources

Evaluating sources is an important step in the research process. Once you have found information (articles, books, etc.), it is important to evaluate those sources to determine whether they are something you will want to use in your assignment, if they are reliable, and how they relate to your assignment. For example: Primary sources provide direct, firsthand evidence about an event, object, or person (e.g. manuscript, interview, scientific research results), while secondary sources are a secondhand account or interpretation of an event, object or person (journal articles, textbooks, interpretation of data).

HOW DO I EVALUATE MY SOURCES?

There are many methods one can use to evaluate sources, but start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What type of source do I need?
  • Is it scholarly and/or peer-reviewed?
  • After scanning the title and abstract, is the source related to my topic?
  • Who wrote this and what is their expertise?
  • What audience were they writing for, and with what purpose?
  • How much research did the author do? How do you know?

FACT-CHECKING

Fact-checkers use an approach called lateral reading to evaluate a secondary source’s credibility. Follow these steps:

  1. Right-click to open a new tab.
  2. Search to learn more about the source:
    • Who is the author? Are they an authority?
    • Who paid for the study, organization, or website?
    • What kinds of bias does this source have?
  3. Search to learn more about the claims:
    • Where did the claims originate?
    • Have the claims been verified elsewhere, or do they all reference the same original source?
  4. Using what you learned, determine whether the source is useful for your purposes.
    • Is it credible?
    • If the source is not credible, can you contextualize its goals and limitations in your assignment? 

Information adapted from:

Wineburg, S. & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral reading: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Stanford History Education Working Group Paper No. 2017-A1. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3048994 

 

MEET WITH A CONSULTANT

Have other questions? Research consultants can help! We specialize in brainstorming topics, finding sources, reading scholarly materials, and evaluating research. 

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