Online Writing Lab

Teaching Students to Evaluate Sources

Some students have not been taught how to fully evaluate a source, and even if they have, providing some instruction in this area allows for a specific focus on what is most important in a particular field.   The types of sources that can and should be used vary in each discipline, so having this discussion in your class enables you to focus on what is most important for your discipline.  

Credibility:  Explain what a credible source is to your discipline.  For example, does a study have to be peer reviewed?  If so, explain what this means, why it is important to your discipline, and tips for finding peer-reviewed sources.

Currency:   Stressing this criterion allows for a discussion of what currency means and why it matters.   When performing research, students often wonder how current a source must be.  The general answer is as current as possible, but this doesn’t really answer the question because a more specific answer depends on the essay guidelines and topic.  For example, if a student is writing an essay about a specific health topic for a nursing class, any data used needs to be particularly current (perhaps within the last year or two); on the other hand, the currency requirements for the sources used in a history essay are not as stringent. 

Comprehensive:  Many times internet searches result in locating short articles or abstracts of studies.  As the instructor, you probably realize that these aren’t comprehensive enough to use, but your students might not.  Given this, explain why a source must be thorough and what the criteria are for your discipline/assignment. 

Bias:  You know what a biased source looks like, but your students probably do not.  This is your chance to explain what a non-biased source is and how to find one. 

Primary vs. Secondary sources: If you are a history instructor, requiring your students to use primary sources may be unnecessary and perhaps even impractical.  However, if you are a nursing instructor, primary sources may be absolutely necessary.  Tell your students what is and what isn’t allowed for this particular writing assignment and, perhaps even more importantly, explain the differences between the two and why certain sources can or cannot be used. 

For more info:
Direct your students to the evaluating sources and effective internet searchespages.