Online Writing Lab

Evaluating Sources

Once a variety of information is found, it is important to make sure that the sources are credible, accurate, and current before incorporating them into an essay.  Using academic databases such as the ones offered through Kiefer Library is a good start, but it is still up to you, as the writer, to make sure the source is credible before using it in an essay. 
Ultimately, your credibility as the writer is dependent on the sources you use.  Using credible sources will enhance your credibility and the overall quality of your essay, while using sources that are not credible will have the opposite effect and will detract from the essay. 

Given this fact, here are a few questions to ask when evaluating any source:

  • Who is behind this source?  Is the source well known and considered an expert in the particular field? 
  • Has the information been reviewed by other professionals in the field?
  • Is the source comprehensive?  Does it offer a variety of information on the subject?
  • How current is it?  Generally, the more current the information, the better it is. 
  • Is the source merely presenting information, or is it trying to sell something?  (Is there a financial incentive for providing certain information?)
  • Is there a bias behind the information?  If so, how strong is this bias?
  • Is the information written in an objective manner or does it seem more emotional?
  • Are the arguments one-sided, or does the source acknowledge counter arguments?

When considering internet sources, it is generally best to stick with sites that end in .gov (government), .edu (education), and, depending on the topic, .mil (military).   These sites are generally more credible than sites ending in other extensions, such as .com (commercial) or .net (network).  Due to the fact that .com sites are commercial-based, it is best to avoid these sites unless they are credible news organizations (in which case the goal is to sell the news rather than a particular product).

Sites that end with the .org (organization) extension can be good places to find information, but these sources are often biased and not comprehensive.  Most .org sites present information from other sites, so they are secondary sources rather than primary sources (click here for an explanation of primary vs. secondary sources).  Therefore, it is best to track down the original source for the information and evaluate it there as opposed to citing and using the actual .org site.

For help with finding credible sources, particularly ones with a specific internet extension, view the effective internet searches page.