RD 115 Information Literacy Project: Evaluate Sources

Guide for students in Reading 115 who are completing an information literacy project

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.

  1. 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)?
  2. 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? 
  3. 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?

  4. 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.

Types of Articles

There are many different types of articles. The chart below can help you figure out which type(s) you're looking for or identify an article you've already found:

Decorative image of a newspaper News articles provide the most current information. Certain newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, are also known for thoughtful, in-depth analysis of important topics and events.
Decorative image of a magazine cover Popular magazine articles can help you generate ideas about issues, controversies, or unanswered questions about a topic, which you might want to explore further. They sometimes refer to studies or scholarly work that you can track down for more information.
Decorative image of a trade magazine cover Trade publications are written by and for professionals within an industry. These are an excellent source of very specific information from inside the field.
Decorative image of a scholarly journal cover Scholarly journal articles go through a process of peer review before they are published. They are written by experts in the field (the people with letters after their name!) and their purpose is to advance the ongoing body of work within the discipline. These articles might present original research data and findings, or take a position on a key question within the field. They can be difficult to read, because their intended audience is other experts and academics, but they are at the top of the line when it comes to authoritative information.

Test Your Knowledge: Scholarly, Trade/Professional, Popular

This quick quiz from the Ithaca College Library will test your knowledge and help you learn to tell the difference between different types of journals.

Screenshot and link to the publications quiz. Click the screenshot to start the publications quiz.

Evaluating Sources to Find Quality Research

This video will provide you with three questions to ask of any source to make sure it is a good fit for your research assignment.

Evaluating Sources on the Web

On the web, it can be difficult to tell what type of source you’re looking at and whether or not it’s something that would provide quality evidence for your assignment. This video will help you look more critically at your own search results.

Evaluating Sources: How PCC Students Do It

In this video, three Portland Community College students talk about how they consider, evaluate and use sources for their own research assignments. It should give you a good idea of what you should consider when evaluating sources for your research.

Evaluating Web Resources

You can use Google and other search engines to find valuable information on almost any topic imaginable on the Internet. You will also find opinions, factoids, propaganda, commercial advertising posing as fact, and many other sources of misinformation. Since anyone can post anything on the free web, not everything is trustworthy.