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Source Evaluation: Should I use this source?

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Source Evaluation

When you find a source, consider these elements to determine if you should use it:

  • Relevance:
    • How does this source help me answer my research question?
      • You'll probably need a number of sources to fully answer your research question. Consider what each source contributes.
    • Does it provide a perspective or argument that I don't have yet?
      • Before choosing a source, consider how you'll use it and how it relates to other sources you've found.
    • Does it support my argument? Does it represent an opposing argument?
      • Some sources might provide evidence or context for your argument. Other sources might help you represent another viewpoint.
    • Does it provide basic or background information about my topic?
      • Books and newspaper articles are useful for finding background or basic information about a topic. Scholarly research articles are typically too complex to provide this.
  • Purpose:
    • Is it intended to persuade, inform/educate, entertain, sell, or some other purpose?
      • If you think it's intended to entertain or sell, consider if it's appropriate for academic research. 
    • Who is the audience? Is it written for other experts, or a general audience?
      • Consider who your audience is and try to find sources that would appeal to them.
  • Author:
    • Can I describe the credentials of the author? Are those credentials relevant to my topic?
      • A quick internet search can tell you a lot about an author.
    • Does the author use biased or prejudiced language? Is the author trying to stir emotions?
      • Try to find sources that are being objective and don't use strong or emotional language.
  • Context:
    • Was the source published recently or is it older? What has changed about my topic since it was published?
      • Unless your topic is historical in nature, you'll probably want to use the most recent information you can find.
    • Where was it published? What is the mission or focus of that publisher?
      • Research the publisher on the internet, if you're not sure. Consider that's publisher's purpose and whether it's appropriate for your topic.
  • Evidence
    • What evidence does the author use to support their argument? If they cite others, are those experts on your topic? Can you identify where their evidence comes from?
      • If you're not sure if the evidence is valid, try to verify it using another source.
    • Do they describe their research methods in detail?
      • Scholarly research articles will often describe their research methods thoroughly. Other types of sources might summarize the research of others, which is okay if they cite their sources.
    • Do they cite their sources? If you needed to, could you find and read those sources?

These are some of the sources you might encounter while researching:

Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Trade Magazine Newspaper Company/Industry Report
  • Focused on a very specific topic
  • Written by experts and reviewed by experts
  • Typically includes research studies
  • Takes awhile to publish after study ends

How do I read a scholarly/peer-reviewed journal article?

  • Focused on a specific industry
  • Written by and for industry experts
  • Includes analysis and opinion
  • Published weekly or monthly 
  • Focused on current events
  • Written by journalists and topic experts
  • Includes reporting, analysis, and opinion
  • Published daily or weekly
  • Focused on a specific company or industry
  • Written by 3rd party organizations
  • Includes summary and analysis
  • Published sporadically
Scholarly journal Trade magazine Newspaper Company Report