WR 122 Hills Spring 2021: Evaluate Sources

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.

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 analyses 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.

SIFT: Stop - Investigate the source - Find trusted coverage - Trace back to the original

When evaluating a website, look beyond the page itself. Some sites look very professional and credible but are actually giving you biased or untrue information.

This short, online video from Mike Caulfield at Washington State University gets you started on becoming an efficient fact checker:

Three more very short videos of Mike Caulfield explaining fact-checking techniques.

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.