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RES104: Introduction to Research Writing: Evaluating Sources

Is this a good article? A question all of us should ask each time we come across information, but one we don't always spend the time to answer well. Evaluating source quality takes some time, but with practice you'll get faster and more efficient at it. Evaluating a source is important to make sure the information is accurate, relevant, timely, and balanced. It isn't as simple as asking if it's good. There isn't even a checklist. But there are criteria and with a bit of critical thinking, you can better identify 'good' sources.

Step 1: Video

Let's start with the most difficult to evaluate type of source: websites. This video will walk you through two different websites and the evaluation criteria. How we answer or satisfy each criteria might differ for each source.

Evaluation Criteria things to consider when  evaluating your source quality. Authority: Who wrote it? What is their expertise? Who do they work for? Why are they trustworthy? How do you know that? Currency: When was this written? How long ago was the info they're quoting published? Has information changed since then? Sources/Data: Where did they get their information? Did they collect it themselves? How did they? If not, what info do they use to prove their point? Purpose: What is the goal of this source? Are they trying to convince you of something? Inform you? Sell you something? Educate you? Point of View: What is the author or organization's perspective? How does that affect their argument? Funding/Transparency: Who funded the research? Who funds the organization? Does that impact their findings? Does that provide potential bias? Explore the source to find evidence to answer these questions. Balance: Does the author provide multiple points of view? Do they address the counterarguments from the other side? Does it provide a balanced view? Organization: Who published the source? What is the goal of the organization? Are they open and transparent about that? Remember that this isn't a check list. Instead, you need to consider the relative strength of the criteria and if the overall quality leans most convincingly for or against use. Charles C. Myers Library

Step 2: Graphics

Where you find the information for scholarly articles is different than one a website, especially if you find it in a library database. The following images will show you where you can start to find some of the information you need to evaluate the quality of your sources.

Somewhere along the top or bottom of the first page you'll find the journal it was published in, as well as the date. You'll also find the publisher. Looking these up to learn more about them is helpful for funding, and point of view. The abstract will often tell you how the authors performed the study, or how they gathered the data. If it's not a study it will likely tell you how they approached the topic instead.Author affiliation can show you expertise of the author. Usually at the bottom of the first page or the end of the article. It may also indicate funding or organization.

The source will tell you the publication it was published in, as well as the date. You'll also find the publisher in the copyright statement below. Looking these up to learn more about them is helpful for funding, and point of view.The abstract will often tell you how the authors performed the study, or how they gathered the data. If it's not a study it will likely tell you how they approached the topic instead. Author affiliation can show you expertise of the author. Usually at the bottom of the first page or the end of the article. It may also indicate funding or organization.

Step 3: Activity

Use the Evaluation Worksheet, available as a Word Doc below, to evaluate one of the sources you found in your database searching. Remember, you might need to look back at the database results page for some guidance, but you should be able to find answers to many of these criteria from the article itself.