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.