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Choose and evaluate sources

Research is a process that involves looking at a lot of different information, written by different people for different purposes at different times. Use four moves or checklist strategies to chose the right library resources, websites, and news sources for your work.

1. Use four moves for evaluating information

Move 1Move 2Move 3Move 4

Check for previous work

Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.

Go upstream to the source of the claim

Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.

Read laterally

Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.

Circle back

If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

2. Use a checklist to be sure the source works for you

Currency

When was it created? How old/new is it? Some topics or disciplines require the latest information. Other disciplines require a long-view or historical perspective. For other disciplines, currency doesn’t matter.

Relevancy

What kind of information do you need?

Some sources are more appropriate than others depending on your research need. It is up to you to identify which source is appropriate for your project. The Research Help Desk (Reference Desk) in the Library will help you identify the resources you need to complete your school work. Some examples of information sources you might require to complete your assignments are:

Preliminary overview (encyclopedia, dictionary, reference article)

Scholarly sources (books, journal articles)

Peer-reviewed sources are sometimes required (found in journal databases and most often accessed by using OneSearch and filtering your results)

Non-scholarly or popular sources (magazines, blogs, newspapers, websites)

Authority

Who wrote it?

The author of the information (person or organization) should have subject matter expertise in the topic of the article, book, etc. When evaluating authority, consider:

Full name of the author or organization

Expertise of the author or organization

Affiliation of the author or organization, e.g., name of a college or university (Univ. of Wisconsin), foundation (such as the Gates Foundation), or government agency (National Institutes of Health) or corporation (Bell Labs)

Accuracy

Is it accurate?

Evaluating accuracy takes a bit of detective work. The task is to verify your sources and be open to challenge your current thinking and biases. Some clues for acccuracy are:

Subject matter expertise of the author (is it stated?)

Sources are clearly cited

The article refers to the cited sources.

The article appears in a reputable journal or platform.

The information is well-edited and free of errors in grammar and style.

Other sources confirm the facts of the article (lateral reading).

Audience

Who is the intended audience?

The intended readers can impact the quality, scope, and assumptions of what is presented. The more general the audience, the more general the information. And conversely, the more specific the audience (e.g., nurses or accountants), the more focused and detailed the information.

General readers

Researchers or professionals

Members of a trade or industry

Special interest groups defined by identity

Purpose

Why did they write it?

A piece of information may be created with any of several goals in mind.

To inform

To persuade

To sell something

To entertain, etc.