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How do you know a source found outside of the library's resources is reliable?
How recent was the information published or updated?
Is the information outdated for the topic you are studying? If the information is about computer science and it was published in 2010, ask yourself if it still relevant to your research. In a quickly changing field, you may need to find a much more recent source.
For websites, are several links on the webpage broken? This can be a sign that this is outdated information.
Who is the author?
What is the author's experience with this discipline or topic? A 19th-century historian likely is not qualified to publish an article or blog about scientific breakthroughs in cancer research. Use common sense when deciding if the author's works are worth citing for your research.
Does the author or publisher endorse political or religious views that could affect objectivity?
Is the author or publisher associated with a special-interest group, such as Greenpeace or the National Rifle Association, that might present only one side of an issue?
Are alternative views presented and addressed? How fairly does the author treat opposing views?
Who, if anyone, sponsors the website or publication of the source?
For websites, what does the URL tell you? The domain name extension often indicates the type of group hosting the site: commercial (.com), educational (.edu), nonprofit (.org), governmental (.gov), military (.mil), or network (.net). URLs may also indicate a country of origin: .uk (United Kingdom) or .jp (Japan), for instance.
Purpose & Audience
Why was the source written or published? Is the author arguing a position, selling a product, or informing the reader? If they are purposefully swaying the readers one way, be sure to know the reason why and be able to address counterarguments that may come up.
Who was the intended audience of this source?
Does the author’s language show signs of bias?
How will the purpose and audience of this source affect my research?
What is the author’s central claim or thesis?
How does the author support this claim—with relevant and sufficient evidence or with just a few anecdotes or emotional examples?
Are statistics consistent with those you encounter in other sources? Have they been used fairly? Does the author explain where the statistics come from? It is possible to “lie” with statistics by using them selectively or by omitting mathematical details.
Are any of the author’s assumptions questionable?
Does the author consider opposing arguments and refute them persuasively?
Does the author fall prey to any logical fallacies?
Hacker, Diana and Barbara Fister. Research and Documentation. Bedford / St. Martin's, 2011. Web. 19 November 2012.
Quaratiello, Arlene, and Jane Devine. The College Student's Research Companion: Finding, Evaluating, and Citing the Resources You Need to Succeed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2011.
Tools for Evaluating Sources
SourceWatch is a resource that will help you find out whether or not the organization that is sponsoring a website you've selected is trying to persuade or inform you.