As you conduct research, preferably structured research, evaluate every single source. Your first run through of evaluation criteria takes place as you are selecting which sources to use. When you have additional time, re-evaluate the source a second time. Do not make the mistake of assuming that because a source is found in the library that it is a quality source for an academic research paper.
Ultimately evaluating sources based on the information you need for a specific assignment is the best approach. Use the following eight evaluation criteria to evaluate sources.
Evaluate sources on the authority of the author and the publisher by asking the following questions:
If you cannot find information regarding the authority of the author or publisher while evaluating sources, you should not use the source. For internet sources without an author, the reliability is in question. Websites or publications by government agencies or well-established non-profit organizations are more reliable even with the absence of a named author.
Evaluate sources on the accuracy of information and bibliographic information by asking the following questions:
If you cannot verify that the information is correct or that the author is an expert on the topic, you should not use the source.
Evaluate sources based on the content by asking the following questions:
While evaluating the content is important, it is not the only evaluation criteria in deciding to use a source. However, if the content is lacking or does not address your topic, you should not use the source.
Evaluate sources based on relevance by asking the following question: Is the information and content relevant to your research paper topic? Sometimes a source’s relevancy is not apparent until you have read all or most of the information. In many instances, however, you can judge the relevance by looking at the following aspects of a source:
Evaluates sources on their objectivity and bias by asking the following questions:
The nature of your assignment and your topic determine how important it is for your sources to be objective. A lack of objectivity is not an automatic reason to dismiss a source if it fits the assignment and the topic while still allowing you to find other sources with opposing viewpoints.
Evaluate sources based on the intended audience of the author by asking the following questions:
The intended audience can influence your evaluation of a source, but it should not be the sole factor in your decision.
Evaluate sources based on the writing style by asking the following questions:
The writing style of the author of an original source influences whether the source is appropriate for your topic and assignment. If the style does not fit with what you are trying to accomplish, consider whether you want to keep the source as one to cite or to simply use it to consult.
Evaluate sources based on currency by asking the following questions:
Currency is only important if your topic dictates using the most recent information available. For example, if you are writing a research paper about the Civil War, currency is not important. However, if you are writing about the effect of a 24-hour news cycle on human sensitivity, currency is important.
When evaluating sources, your assignment instructions play an important role as well because that is what dictates the type of information you are allowed or required to use. For example, if your instructor prohibits you from using internet sources that are not electronic copies of scholarly journal articles, no website or online multimedia is appropriate for your assignment, even if it meets all eight source evaluation criteria.