Use the six criteria below to evaluate sources and determine whether they are reliable enough to be used for research. Once you've learned how to apply these criteria, you won't need to use a checklist every time you want to evaluate a source. Instead, you can keep these criteria in the back of your mind when determining whether a source should be used.
Consult these video tutorials to see examples of how these criteria can be applied to different kinds of sources:
- Evaluating Sources Part 1: Accuracy/Quality & Authority (4:01)
- Evaluating Sources Part 2: Purpose/Objectivity & Corroboration/Coverage (3:38)
- Evaluating Sources Part 3: Currency & Relevance (2:50)
Accuracy and quality refer to the correctness, truthfulness, and overall excellence of the information. To determine a source's accuracy and quality, ask these questions:
Is the information logical, well-organized, and supported by evidence?
Has it been edited or peer-reviewed?
Is it free from errors -- both content errors and spelling/grammar errors?
If it's a website, is it professional in appearance? Does it look like something that was casually thrown up on the web, or has time and care gone into its presentation?
TIP: The peer-review process used by many scholarly journals is designed to guarantee a certain amount of accuracy and quality in the publication of scholarly information.
Authority refers to the author or other source of the information. To determine a source's authority, consider the answers to these questions:
Who is the author(s)? What are the author's credentials? With what organizations is the author affiliated? Has biographical information been provided? Has the author supplied his/her contact information?
What is the publisher or sponsoring organization? Sometimes the authority comes not from a single author, but from a reputable organization or publisher.
If it's a website, what does the URL ending reveal about the source (e.g.,.gov indicates a government source)?
TIP: If the source is a webpage, you may have to look around to find information about authorship. Try scrolling down to the bottom or the page or clicking on the "About" link to learn more about the site. Also, keep in mind that many professors will not accept Wikipedia as an authoritative source of information.
Purpose refers to the reason for which the author has produced the information, and objectivity refers to a straight presentation of information without prejudice. To determine a source's purpose and objectivity, consider the answers to these questions:
What are the author or producer's goals and intentions? What are you being sold?
Does the information consist mostly of facts or does it contain opinion? Is the author upfront about stating any affiliations of importance? If the information contains an argument or opinion, then are opposing arguments or opinions recognized and addressed?
Is the author biased in his/her views? Or does the author present information in a way that is fair and balanced? Does the source contain strong language or images designed to arouse certain emotions? Is the author making assumptions, or taking things for granted, that are having an effect on the fair presentation of information?
TIP: It's OK to use information sources that contain strong arguments or opinions, but it's always best to acknowledge the author's perspective.
Corroboration and coverage refer to the thoroughness and consistency of the information. To determine a source's corroboration and coverage, consider the answers to these questions:
Does the source contain enough information? Is it thorough?
Does it reference other sources? How does it relate to other sources on the same topic? Does it build on what has come before? If it's a website, does it contain appropriate links to other information?
Is it consistent with other information? Does it confirm what you know or have read about in other sources? Does it contain quotes from other sources? If so, can you look at the original sources and verify them?
TIP: Looking at the list of references in a source is an excellent way of not only understanding a work's coverage but also finding other excellent sources of research.
Currency refers to the time that the information was produced. To determine a source's currency, consider the answers to these questions:
When was the information published? Has it been updated since its original publication?
If it's a website, do the links work? Is it a "current" looking page?
How important is recent information to your topic?
TIP: For certain topics you might be able to use information that was published long ago, but for many contemporary, scientific, or health-related topics, you’ll probably want to use information that was published recently.
Relevance refers to how well the source meets your information needs. To determine a source's relevance, consider the answers to these questions:
How closely does the information source relate to your research question?
At what level has the information been produced? For what kind of audience has the information been created? You don’t want to use information that is too far below or above your level (e.g., for children).
At how many other sources have you looked? If you stop at the first two or three things you find, then you may not be getting the most relevant information.
TIP: When searching for information, it’s important to remember that all of the information that you use should closely address your topic. If it only barely touches on your topic, then it’s probably not something that you should use.
The material on this page has been adapted from the following excellent sources. Check them out for more information:
- “Critical Evaluation of Resources.” University of Louisville Libraries.
- “Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test.” California State University Libraries.