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UNIV 120 / ARSC 120 Transfer Seminars

Evaluating Sources

When you're evaluating information that you find through an online search or through library resources, you can use these questions to help you decide how relevant, credible, and useful a source will be for your project:

Who was involved in creating the source? 

  • Try to identify the name of an author or authors, then do an online search to learn more about them. What gives them authority to produce information on the topic? What limitations do they have? Consider their credentials and experience.
  • What group, institution, or publication is responsible for producing or hosting this source? Do an online search to find out more about this entity. Why do you think they produced this source?
  • How does the source acknowledge or cite the ideas of others? Whose perspectives are represented, and whose may be left out? 

Who is the intended audience? 

  • Consider the visual design of the source as well as the type of language it uses. Who do you think is the intended audience? What does this mean for how you plan to use the source?

When and how was the source created? 

  • What process did the author(s) have to go through to produce this piece? Make a list of steps they might have had to take, from having an initial idea through choosing how to present it to an audience.
  • How long do you think it took for this source to reach its current form? What does that mean for your topic?
  • When was the source published or last updated? What does this mean for your topic?

Types of Sources

When you are beginning an evaluation of your sources, it can be helpful to determine whether they are intended for a scholarly or general/popular audience. Information you find in both types of sources might be useful for your project. These guidelines can help you decide which type of source you have:

  Popular Sources Scholarly Sources
Purpose Report on current events or entertain Discuss results of research in detail
Author Journalists or professional writers Professors or scholars
Audience General public Researchers in specific academic fields
Language Accessible to a general audience Specialized to an academic area
Sources Cited May quote experts or interviewees; may include in-text links to sources Always include an extensive list of cited sources in a bibliography or footnotes

Evaluating Sources FAQ

There are a lot of variables involved in evaluating sources! The questions below often come up in E110 research projects. Remember that whenever you have questions or run into challenges, you can use Ask the Library to chat with a UD librarian. 

Are all of the sources I find through library databases considered “academic” or “scholarly”?

There are many different types of sources available through library databases and DELCAT. You will find sources that are traditionally considered “scholarly,” such as peer-reviewed journal articles and books published by university presses. You will also find “popular” sources such as news and magazine articles, books for a general audience, and streaming videos. Your professor might ask you to use only scholarly sources, or they might ask you to use a combination of popular and scholarly sources. 

Are all of the sources I find through library databases credible? 

In general, sources you find through library databases have been through a vetting process such as peer-review (for scholarly journal articles) or approval by an editor or publisher (for books, news, and magazine articles). In comparison, sources you find through a Google search may or may not have been approved by an outside authority such as a peer-reviewer or editor. Even though this is the case, you should still take steps to evaluate both the credibility and relevance of a source for your specific topic. The questions listed at the top of this page can help.

I found a source online and it seems useful. I’m not sure what type of source it is or if it’s ok to use for my paper. How do I tell? 

When you use Google to explore your topic, it can be difficult to determine what type of source you’ve found. You might find articles from news publications or magazines, reports produced by nonprofits or government agencies, scholarly journal articles, videos, and more. The questions listed at the top of this page—especially those about who is responsible for creating the source—can help determine credibility and provide clues about what type of source it is. Keep in mind that your professor might ask you to use specific types of sources.