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Research Fundamentals: Evaluate Sources

What does it mean to evaluate a source of information?

There are no "good" sources or "bad" sources. When we evaluate sources for academic projects (research papers, speech presentations, posters, etc.) we are looking for sources of information that useful and appropriate to our purpose.

For example, if you are conducting research for a position paper or persuasive speech, an opinion article might be useful in constructing your argument. However, that same article would not be appropriate for a natural science poster presentation that requires scientific research studies.

When selecting information sources for your research, be sure to consider the requirements of your assignment and the context of your project. By examining the following criteria, you can better evaluate the usefulness and appropriateness of sources for your specific information needs.


image of audienceBooks, articles, videos, images, and websites are all designed with an audience (or multiple audiences) in mind. Some common audience types include: the general public, students (K-12, college), the trades and practitioners (hospitality, health & human services), academics, and the scientific community.

When evaluating the audience of a source, consider your own research assignment and your intended audience.

Questions to Ask:

  • Who is the intended audience for this publication?
  • What do the style and publication type tell you about the intended audience?
  • Is the language formal or informal?

Why is this important? Authors often tailor a publication to the intended audience, which means you can learn a lot about the purpose and intent behind the publication.


image of figure with rubber stampAuthors gain authority in various ways. For example, the author of a scholarly journal article may have subject expertise, while the author of a news article may have extensive experience as an investigative reporter. Authority may also be conferred through institutional affiliation - the school, business, department, or professional organization to which the author belongs. Here, the assumption is that reputable organizations and institutions employ reputable authors.

Authority is highly contextual. In other words, a well-renowned scholar of art history has authority when writing about ancient Egyptian sculpture, but likely lacks authority when speaking about a subject outside of their expertise, such as artificial intelligence or culinary arts.

Questions to Ask:

  • What credentials does this author have, and what have they done in the field? For example, what degree(s) do they hold and/or what else have they published?
  • Can you contact the author with further questions about the document? 

Why is this important?  Establishing credentials is one method for assessing credibility and accuracy of a publication.

Further Questions to Ask:


  • How is "authority" defined in your discipline? Subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event)?

bullseyeQuestions to ask:

  • Does the author adequately cite sources?
  • Does the author’s evidence support the claim?
  • Is the source well-organized?
  • Are there glaring errors in spelling or grammar?
  • Was the information reviewed by editors or subject experts before it was published?

clipboard with checklist and pencilQuestions to ask:

  • Is the scope of the content clearly stated?
  • Does the author provide supporting materials such as references?
  • Are there links to other resources on the topic?

calendar with checkmarkCurrency is particularly important in fields that are rapidly changing, like science, technology, or medicine. Depending on the topic, you may consider historic sources.

Questions to ask:

  • When was the information published or last updated? Has it been updated?
  • Have newer articles been published on the topic?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?

Questions to ask:

  • Is the information presented with the least possible bias?
  • Is the content factual or does the author try to change the audience's mind?
  • Are images employed to manipulate or sway the opinion of the audience?
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  • Last Updated: Jan 12, 2024 10:26 AM
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