WR 121 Erwert Fall 2021: Evaluate for credibility

Evaulating sources for credibility

For your annotated bibliography, you will be answering this question for each of your sources: "How do you know this is a credible source? Why did you, and therefore why should we, your readers, trust it?"  The information on this page includes some guidelines and considerations to help you answer those questions.

Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask

Decorative pictures of question marks

How do you know if a source is right for your research? Below are some questions you can ask about your sources. There are no good or bad sources, but sources can be useful or not useful based on the sorts of evidence you're looking for.

  • Who is the author? What do you know about the author’s background? (hint: Google the author). What makes the author an expert on this particular topic (remember that experience and research are markers of expertise as well as education)?
  • What journal, magazine, organization, or website published this information? Look for an about page on the publisher's website (or explore their website) and also Google the name of the publication/organization/website (or look for a Wikipedia page about it) to learn more about the publisher of the information. What kind of reputation does it have? What is their purpose in sharing this information? Is it known for promoting specific points of view? 
  • Can you tell where the information in the article came from? Do they share any information from other sources or does it seem like they’re sharing their opinion? If they used other sources, do those sources seem worth trusting?

  • Based on your answers to these questions, would you trust this source? If not, could anything from this article still be useful? Often articles link to other useful resources or mention other authors and studies that could be helpful.

You may not get good answers from all of these questions and still trust a source. For example, an opinion piece from a noted expert in a specific field could be a useful source, but chances are, they are not going to be citing sources. Information from the Centers for Disease Control website is trustworthy, but much of it doesn't have an author. You have to weigh each of these factors when making your decision.

Fact checking resources

Evaluating Sources for Credibility (3.22 minutes)

What makes a source good?

There is no magic, easy answer to this question!  There isn't a rule we can use to say "if this is true, the source will be good".  Instead we want to think about the questions we should be asking ourselves when deciding whether to use a source like:

  • Is this source relevant to my topic or is it just that my keywords happened to show up in it?
  • Is this information current?
  • Who wrote it?  What are their qualifications?  Can I confirm their credentials somehow?
  • Is it published?  By whom?  How much scrutiny was this subjected to before it was published?
  • What is the reputation of the publication?
  • Who funded this information and why?
  • Are the sources that the author used to make their argument included/cited?  If not, does the author tell you where they got the information clearly enough that you could track it down?
  • What is the bias or perspective of the author?  Which points of view are they representing?  Which points of view are they leaving out?

Remember, the sources we choose to cite form the basis of our own credibility.  If we cite junk, our reader is justified in thinking our argument is junk.

The handout below presents three essential questions you should ask of a source to see if it is a good fit for your needs.  Your answers will also work well for your annotated bibliography.