Evaluate Information Sources

Use this guide to help you identify credible, academically appropriate sources you can cite in your assignments.

Questions to Ask

  1. Who is your audience, and what kind of information do they value? Some assignments ask you to develop a report, plan, or other project with a certain type of person or group in mind. For example, you might be asked to imagine you are presenting your findings/evidence/report to a business group, a particular organization, to colleagues, or to others as defined by your assignment. If no audience is defined in your assignment, consider who, besides you and your instructor, might benefit from the work you are doing.
  2. Who authored, created, or developed the information you are considering? Look for experts and consider any biases or questionable affiliations the author or organization may have. In some cases, bias might be beneficial (for example, if you are comparing opposing arguments or opinions), but in others you want to make sure multiple viewpoints are represented objectively.
  3. Is the information based on data and/or research? Read through the information carefully, looking for evidence of research and data. Be wary about taking information at face value, and always follow the research/data trail to its original sources.
  4. What kind of writing is used? Look for writing that is objective and unemotional, well-written, free of grammar or spelling errors, and in-depth. Information should be based on research, evidence or data.
  5. How timely is the information? Generally, you should look for current information. However, some types of information, such as theories or seminal scholarly works, may be older or historic but can still be relevant depending on your assignment.


What is a “Scholarly” or “Academic” Source?

Many assignments require you to locate and cite scholarly or academic sources. Use the chart to help you determine whether a source is academic. Note that scholarly sources are relevant for most assignments, but they might not be relevant for every type of assignment, so review your assignment descriptions and talk to your instructor if you have questions about appropriate sources.

Note about books: Evaluate books and e-books as you would any information source, looking at publisher, currency, author’s background, references, and quality of writing.

Use this chart [PDF] to help you evaluate sources and determine what can be cited in your assignments. Some information sources should be used ONLY to help you get started but may not be acceptable for citing.


Google is Great, But Be VERY Selective with Online Sources

Librarians are big fans of online searching, because there are open-access studies, reports, data and other materials available from research groups and universities. However, you need to be very selective about what you use when you search online. Make sure the sources you find online meet a high standard for quality and academic writing before citing them in your assignments.

  1. Look for content or documents that clearly have authors or are published by experts or organizations that share information about their purpose. Always read the “About Us” section. Examples of institutions producing high-quality reports/research: Pew Research Center; Harvard Family Research Project; Happiness Research Institute
  2. Look for content or documents that cite sources and offer in-depth analysis of an issue. For example, the World Happiness Report.
  3. Use a variety of criteria to determine credibility and relevance. For example, see John Hopkins Sheridan Libraries’ guide on Evaluating Internet Sources.