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English: Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Authority is Constructed & Contextual

Image says authority is constructed and contextual

What's a Credible Source?

It depends!

  • What kind of sources does your instructor require? From what timeframe?
  • Recognize that date and authority can be subjective indicators of credibility.
    • Example: AIDS treatments have progressed since the 1980s and 1990s. If your paper is about historical treatments, credible sources would be from the 1980s and 1990s.
    • Example: If you need to specifically share a conservative political perspective about gun rights, a credible source would be the NRA website. You would need to indicate to your reader awareness of the source's perspective / be clear about its use in your paper.
  • Understand that you can't determine accuracy without checking other sources. One article making a claim is not as strong as many articles drawing similar conclusions.
    • Example: You might see an article reporting about a scientific study in a well-known newspaper. To make sure it's an accurate representation of the study, check the actual study. If the news article is inaccurate, it would be best to cite the study. However, if your paper is about how news can misrepresent studies, you would want to cite both sources.

PROVEN

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation by librarian Ellen Carey (2018), Santa Barbara City College, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The process of evaluating a source includes examining the source itself and examining other sources by:

  • Checking for previous work. Has someone already fact-checked this source?
  • Finding the original source. Who originally published the information and why?
  • Reading laterally. What do other people say about this publication and author?
  • Circling back. How can you revise your original search to yield better results?
  • Checking your own emotions. Is your own bias affecting your evaluation?1

The questions below will help you think critically during the source evaluation process:

Purpose: How and why the source was created.

  • Why does this information exist?
    Why is it in this form (book, article, website, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Is the purpose clear?

Relevance: The value of the source for your needs.

  • How useful is this source in answering your question, supporting your argument, or adding to your knowledge?
  • Is the type and content of the source appropriate for your assignment?

Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information.

  • How thorough and balanced is this source?
  • Does it present fact or opinion?
  • How well do its creators acknowledge their point of view, represent other points of view fully, and critique them professionally?

Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information.

  • How well do the creators of this source support their information with factual evidence, identify and cite their sources, and accurately represent information from other sources? 
  • Can you find the original source(s) of the information or verify facts in other sources? 
  • What do experts say about the topic?

Expertise: The authority of the authors and the source. 

  • Who created this source and what education and/or professional or personal experience makes them authorities on the topic?
  • How was the source reviewed before publication?
  • Do other experts cite this source or otherwise acknowledge the authority of its creators?

Newness: The age of the information.

  • Does your topic require current information? 
  • How up-to-date is this source and the information within it? 

1Based on Caulfield, Mike. "Four Moves and a Habit." Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, 2017.