Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Get It Done Guide to Undergraduate Research

Got a research assignment coming up? We're here to help.

Evaluating Sources

What should I be looking for?

Evaluating your sources is crucial before including them in your research. Ask these questions for popular and scholarly sources alike.

Who is the author?

  • What is their background? How does it contribute to their work?
  • Does an organization claim responsibility for the source? What can you find out about them?
  • What makes them credible? What makes them biased?

Where is the source published?

  • Is this published in a scholarly journal, a newspaper, etc.? Is this a standalone publication, like a website or a government document?
  • What is the reputation of the publication or media outlet? Do they have any known biases?

When was the source published?

  • Is your source recent enough to be relevant to your research? Is this the most recent information on your topic?
  • Does the timing of the source fit your research purposes?

Why was the source published?

  • What is the purpose of the source? Does the purpose impact the argument?

Where did the author get their information?

  • In a scholarly article, you can check the citations / bibliography / works cited / references to see where the researchers got their information.
  • In popular sources, you may have to look a little harder.
    • Often newspaper and online articles will provide hyperlinks within the text to other reports or articles that the author references. Check these out. Do you see any red flags?
    • Pay attention to whom they are quoting. Who's viewpoint is represented?

What's the deal with bias?

  • We are all told to avoid obviously biased sources in our research, but it's a little more complicated than that.
  • If you include a source with bias, make sure that you are upfront about that and account for it in the text of your paper.
  • Bias and credibility are often two sides of the same coin. For example, if you are researching payment for student athletes, you could consider an opinion piece written by a student athlete biased, since they have a personal stake in the situation. However, the student athlete perspective is important to include, and an opinion piece can be a great way to illustrate personal perspective. Just be clear that this is one person's opinion that is close to the situation.

What about website domains?

  • Many of us have been taught to evaluate sources based on the website domain (.com, .org, .edu, .gov, etc.). Evaluating is more complicated and now that we're at university, we need to go a little deeper.
  • Domain names only tell you the type of organization responsible for the source. Domain names should not be used alone to gauge credibility.
  • Keep in mind that many scholarly source vendors host their collections on .com websites. Even if your domain name includes a .com, you could be looking at a scholarly source.
  • Likewise, the homepage for UMD (umd.edu) has a .edu domain name, but this home page is not a scholarly source. Websites with .edu domain names simply denote that a university, college, or educational institution claims responsibility for the content.
  • All sources from the U.S. government will have a .gov domain name, but not all government sources are equal. A government report with data and conclusions may suit your needs better than a general website page. 

 

 

Things to consider:

Is the Author a Scholar?

  • Do they have advanced degrees in the area they are publishing in? Can you find other publications they have written in this or similar areas?
  • Do they work at a university / college? Can you find their university profile?

Do the authors cite their sources?

  • Do you see a bibliography, works cited, reference list, footnotes, or in-text citations? 
  • If you do not see formal citations, the source is probably not a scholarly article.

Is this source Peer Reviewed?

  • Scholarly articles go through a rigorous review process at the Journal level. Articles are submitted to the journal editors for review. Articles are only included in academic journals if they are deemed credible by the reviewers.

 

How can I tell if my source is peer reviewed?
  • Look in the database. EBSCO databases will tell you if publications are peer-reviewed. See the walkthrough below for more details.
  • Google the publication. Look at their webpage and see if you can find any information about their review process.

 

Walkthrough (example source found in Academic Search Ultimate)

Things to consider:

What perspective / expertise does the author bring to the table?

  • Authors of popular sources may not be scholars and that's ok. How do they demonstrate their expertise? What value does their perspective bring to your argument?

Where did the information come from?

  • You probably won't see a bibliography at the end of a popular article, but do they tell you where they got their information? Who did they interview or reference in their work?
    • Newspaper articles often include links to reports and other articles that they reference. Check these out, maybe you can use their sources for your assignment.

Walkthrough

Fact Checking Websites

  • Fact-checkers examine everything from urban legends to political speeches, tracing down the origins and veracity of claims.They include citations to their research, so you can follow the links and assess the information for yourself, too.
  • Snopes
  • Politifact

Reverse Image Search

  • The internet is full of photoshopped images. If you want to find the original version of an image making the rounds, you can use “reverse image search.”
  • This helps track down the first time the image was shared, allowing you to see if it’s been altered along the way.
  • How to Reverse Image Search in Google

Ulrich's Periodical Dictionary

  • This database, available through UMD Libraries, tracks which journals are “refereed” (peer-reviewed).
  • Search a journal title, then hover over the icons on the left-hand side of the search results to determine whether a journal has a peer-review process.

Allsides.com

  • Use the Media Bias Ratings to explore whether a publication tends to lean right or left.