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Evaluating Sources LRC@TCC

Not all information is created equal. Whether the information source you are using is a printed book or periodical article or an electronic document you have found on the Internet, the fact that information has been published does not in itself make it a valid source. There are some aspects of information sources - whether those be electronic or in print - that anyone can analyze if you know what you are looking for. If in doubt, remember to ask your instructor.

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

2.Publisher/Institutional Affiliation
3.Date of Publication or Last Revision

5.Intended Audience 
7.Writing Style

  • Author
    Who is the author of the information source?
    Do you know anything about his/her credentials?
    Especially in the case of an Internet source, the author's name may not be present; what does this say about the potential validity of the source?
    Has your instructor mentioned the author in class?
    Can you find other books or articles written by the author? Use the library catalog, periodical indexes and/or Internet search engines to find out. A book will often include a list of other books written by the same author.
  • Publisher/Institutional Affiliation 
    Who is the publisher of the source or, in the case of an Internet document, on whose Web site is it published? A book published by a university press or an Internet document on a university's Web site is more likely to be a reliable source of information.
    What else has the publisher published?
    Is the publisher/Web site likely to have a particular bias? If so, you will want to take this into account, perhaps by balancing the information with a source on the same topic from another point of view. 
  • Date of Publication or Last Revision 
    The date of publication may be an important factor in evaluating an information source, especially in subject areas - such as science and technology - where currency is significant.
    Almost all printed information sources include a date of publication, as well as dates of previous and/or revised editions, if any. In the case of books, these dates are normally located on the title page and/or the reverse (or "verso") of the title page.  In the case of periodical articles, the date normally appears on the cover, as well as on pages throughout the periodical issue.
    Internet documents should, but do not always, include the date on which the document was last revised. This date is likely to be found either at the top of the document (the "header") or at the bottom (the "footer").
  • Documentation/References
    Just as your research paper must include a list of references, a scholarly book, article or Web page ought to contain a list of sources consulted, a bibliography, and/or footnotes. The presence of references does not necessarily imply that the information contained in the document is accurate; however, it does allow the reader to check the author's sources to independently verify the information. 
  • Intended Audience 
    What type of audience is the author addressing?
    Is the information aimed at specialists in the field or a general audience?
    Is the information too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?
  • Purpose
    What seems to be the purpose of the author and, in the case of a Web document, the purpose of the Web site on which it appears? Is its sole purpose to sell a product or to promote a cause?
    Does the document contain mainly the author's own opinions about a subject or does it present facts objectively?
  • Writing Style
    Is the document organized logically?
    Are the arguments clearly presented?
    Is the text easy to read or is it overly verbose or stilted and choppy?
  • Relevance
    Perhaps most importantly, is the information relevant to your topic? Sometimes, it may not be apparent until you have read a substantial portion of the document that a document is not relevant. You can often judge a document's relative merits simply by looking at its title, table of contents, introduction, and index, if one is present.
Types of Web Pages
  • An advocacy page is sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion. The web address usually ends in .org (organization). Examples: the Democratic Party, the Republican party, the National Rifle Association, etc.
  • A business/marketing page is sponsored by a commercial enterprise usually trying to sell or promote products either directly or through advertisements. The web address usually ends in .com (commercial). Examples: Amazon, VaPilot, Yahoo, etc.
  • A news page is designed to provide extremely current information. The web address usually ends in .com (commercial). Examples: CNN, NBCi, VaPilot, etc.
  • An informational page presents factual information. The web address usually ends in .gov (government) or .edu (education) since many are sponsored by educational institutions or government agencies. Examples: city web sites, libraries, reports, research activities, etc.
  • A personal page is published by an individual and may contain personal or professional information. The page may or may not be associated with a business or institution. The web address may have any type of ending (.com, .gov, .edu, etc.)

Adapted from Evaluating Web Resources by J. Alexander and M. Tate. Widener UniversityWolfgram Memorial Library. Copyright Widener University, 1996.