As you begin your research, keep in mind that not all texts are valid sources, and some valid sources are better than others. Evaluating sources for their usefulness, accuracy, and relevance is an important step in the research process. It requires some detective work, including identifying the source’s timeliness, author credentials, purpose, audience, location, and reliability of evidence.
When searching online, remember that the Internet is an unregulated arena with no checks on bias, factuality, or quality. Be particularly critical of information and carefully examine each site.
Use sources that offer as much of the following as possible:
- author’s name
- author’s position, background, and area of expertise
- author’s organizational, publication, or institutional affiliation:
- Check out the website’s homepage
- Look at the URL (i.e. http://www.nyc.gov) or domain name (.edu, .com, .org, .net)
- See if the source is peer reviewed or from a reputable organization
- date of publication or page creation
- citations and references for evidence provided
Questions to consider as you read and research:
- How do you know the author is qualified to write on the given topic?
- Does the author or organization have a vested interest in the information that would increase bias? Is the intention ultimately to persuade the reader to do, believe, or buy something?
- Does the source support all claims with evidence?
- Does the information appear to be clear, specific, valid, and well-researched?
- Are there citations or references provided that you could check through other means?
- If timeliness of the information is important, is the source recent?
Don’t settle on the first relevant sources you find—rather, read widely and allow yourself to become an expert on the topic before choosing sources that are reliable and best suited to your particular purpose. Ask a Librarian!