Guide to evaluating research resources

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Evaluating sources when doing research can be a complex task. Your papers credibility depends upon the reliability of the information you use to support your points. There are times when, along with authoritative and scholarly sources, other information, such as interviews and personal observations are valid sources. In general, however, a source is only as credible as the author’s credentials and the reputation of the sponsoring publication and/or organization. These guidelines are to help you become familiar with how to evaluate the value of information:

1. Does the author have some authority in the field about which she or he is providing information? What are the author’s qualifications, credentials and connections to the subject?

2. Does the author have articles published in peer reviewed (scholarly and professional) publications? (If an author does not have peer reviewed articles published, this does not necessarily mean that she or he does not have credible information, only that there has been no professional “test” of the author’s authority on that subject. Of course, it is possible your limited search may have missed such publications.)

3. Are there clues that the author/s are biased? For example, is he/she selling or promoting a product? Is the author taking a personal stand on a social/political issue or is the author being objective ? Bias is not necessarily “bad,” but the connections should be clear.

4. Is the information current? Old information may be useful for background material, but expecially in science and technology changes are rapid and information rapidly becomes out of date. Information in books is not as current as the information in scholarly periodicals.

5. Does the information have a complete list of works cited, which reference credible, authoritative sources? If the information is not backed up with sources, what is the author’s relationship to the subject to be able to give an “expert” opinion?

6. In what kind of publication site does the information appear? The journal, publisher, etc., can give you clues about the credibility of the source. Information in popular magazines are, in general, poor sources of information and are not adequate sources for college level papers.

It is safe to assume that if you have limited background in a topic and have a limited amount of time to do your research, you may not be able to get the most representative material on the subject. So be wary of making unsupportable conclusions based on a narrow range of sources.