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How Can I Tell if a Source is Good? - Evaluating Research Sources

Electronic searches have provided researchers with access to countless sources. Yet, like many other technological developments, this one has drawbacks as well as benefits. For this easy access provides not only many valuable sources but also some questionable ones. Thus, the need for careful evaluation of sources by a researcher has increased.

The adage "just because it's in print doesn't mean it's true" is important to recall. Every text --from books to journals to web sites -- reflects the personal and cultural assumptions of those involved in its production. These ideological assumptions, however, can be analyzed.

  • Does the author demonstrate his/her expertise by citing other significant sources?
  • Does the author have an unexamined bias? Is there an ulterior motive?
  • For a web site, is it sponsored by a reputable organization, as suggested by .edu or .org?
  • Is the evidence up to date given the nature of the topic? For the social sciences, in-text APA citations include the date; it matters!
  • Is the information sufficient and relevant? Is the context explained well enough to judge the accuracy and applicability of the info?
  • Are the examples representative of the larger group? Does a compelling exception exist so the "rule" of the given examples is easily broken?
  • Has any significant counter evidence been omitted/ignored?
  • Are the key terms/concepts clearly defined? Does the meaning of a key term shift without explanation?
  • Are the comparisons made between comparable items? Or are the proverbial "apples" and "oranges" being compared?

For more on the evaluation of sources, go to Part 8 of the University of Hartford Libraries' Information Skills Tutorial.