How to evaluate sources

Whether we like it or not, sources are integral to research writing. Your sources support all the information and arguments in the essay you are writing. A credible source will make your essay more persuasive. It is no surprise, then, that anyone who enters the academe must learn how to evaluate sources.

The sources

There are many types of sources out there, especially on the internet, that will bombard you with information. Thus, as a researcher, you should have a keen eye for evaluating whether you should cite it as a source. This will save you from going through an article only to find out that it contains irrelevant or false information. 

First, it would help to know that there are two types of sources—primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are documents, speeches, data, and other evidence that were created by or are from the source or the subject. Examples of these are interviews, speeches, diaries, and survey data. On the other hand, secondary sources are articles or essays that present or interpret primary sources. Examples of these are books, textbooks, literary analyses, and other research articles that do not make use of their own data.

How to evaluate sources

A credible source is one you and your readers can trust will give you true, unbiased, and accurate information. Here are some things to consider on how to evaluate sources:

  • The first thing you need to check when looking for sources is the date when it was published. As a general rule, researchers use sources published within 5 or 10 years, depending on the field of study.
  • Is the author or publisher reputable? It is better if the author is an expert in the field you are writing about.
  • Look for peer-reviewed articles.
  • If it is a website, check if the URL ends with either .gov, .edu, .org. Websites that end in .com may be used sparingly as they are often used for commercial purposes and not for research.
  • Read the preface or abstract, or scan the source to see if it will talk about your topic. Just because a source contains the same keywords as your topic does not mean that it will be useful. The most important thing is that your source is relevant to your topic.
  • Check for a list of references. For the source to be credible, it must also cite other credible sources.

Scan the preface or abstract or introduction of the source to see its purpose. If it is merely offering an opinion, it may not be a credible source.

Use the CRAAP Test

The CRAAP Test

The content

  • Consider the tone of the source—is it objective or emotional? Is your source presenting fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • The source should be accurate. Cross-check the facts with other sources or with personal knowledge. Be careful of sources that misrepresent facts.
  • If the source is offering an opinion or an analysis, again make sure that the author is reputable in this field.
  • Be critical of the arguments. If you notice that they are one-sided or do not acknowledge other viewpoints, you may want to look for other sources.
  • Check if the source presents supporting evidence and not mere sweeping generalizations.
  • The information presented should be appropriate for your level. It should not be too elementary or too advanced for you.
  • The source should also be free of spelling and grammar errors. Likewise, it should cite its sources properly.

It is important for any researcher to learn how to evaluate sources. It is a skill that takes time to build, and which becomes easier as you gain more knowledge in your field. The most important thing is to think critically and not to simply accept whatever you find.

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