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Research Process

Evaluate Sources

As you find information, you must evaluate it to insure that the information you use is credible. But how do you do that?

Establishing the credibility of a source is not a small task. Will you always get it right? Probably not, but you should make an effort to verify the credibility of sources you use. This can feel overwhelming at times, but there are some key criteria you can consider that will help you make a good decision including:

  • Who is the author and/or publisher of the source? What is their background? Have they written anything else on that topic? Do they have any bias?
  • What is the purpose of the source? To inform, persuade, entertain, educate, or sell you something?
  • Do they cite where they get their information? What types of sources are they citing? Are they credible?
  • How current is the source? Is the date it was published appropriate? For example, if it's a medical topic you will want something published in the last few years, although if you want to discuss what was done historically it would be appropriate to use something older. If it is a literary topic, it can be decades old and still be relevant.
  • How relevant is it to your topic? How will you use it to support your thesis (to provide statistics, background information, definitions, an opposing viewpoint, as evidence to support your viewpoint, etc.)?

Careful and consistent attention to validating sources should become a habit. Yes, it takes extra time, but the consequences of not evaluating sources carefully can be very real and can cost you time, reputation, or worse. Think of it as an investment in your credibility. Plus, it will get you better grades in your coursework!

Internet sources are not regulated for any levels of quality like other types of sources. Make sure you review internet sources for credibility, accuracy, and bias. This video will explain the basics on evaluating internet sources (3:52):

 

A website's address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) can tell you a lot about the website and its content. The following table explains the difference between the most popular domains on the web. 

Domain  

Ownership and Purpose

.gov

.edu

  • For U.S. post-secondary institutions that are accredited by an agency on the Department of Education's list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies.
  • Educause is the sole registrar for names in the .edu domain

.org

  • For organizations,  non-profits, companies, and clubs.
  • Registration for .org domains is operated by the Public Interest Registry.
  • Provided by virtually any domain registrar or web hosting company.
  • .org is an unrestricted, open domain

.mil

.com

  • Originally intended for commercial business organizations but is now used for virtually any commercial or non-commercial website.
  • Provided by any domain registrar or web hosting company.
  • .com is an unrestricted, open domain

.net

  • Originally intended for 'network' organizations (involved in network technologies) but is now considered a general purpose domain similar to .com.
  • Provided by any domain registrar or web hosting company.
  • .net is an unrestricted, open domain

 

A widely-used method is to evaluate against a checklist of criteria. One useful checklist is the CRAAP Test since it uses a memorable acronym that serves as a memory-aid for the 5 criteria: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Familiarize yourself with these standards.

View this video for more information: