Resources for School of Education Extended Campus Students: Evaluating Sources
As a researcher, you want to find high-quality information - information that you can trust. Using trustworthy information helps you to share accurate information in your work, base your own work on a solid foundation, and show that you are credible. There are some basic ways to judge whether something is trustworthy, but sometimes the distinctions between trustworthy and untrustworthy are more subtle. Check out the box on the left for some of these basic ways to know if something is trustworthy, and then watch the video on the right to learn more about some of the more subtle ways that you can tell if something is trustworthy.
Elements to Consider
As you look through a results list, you constantly evaluate the information you see. There are surface-level elements of a source that we can pay attention to as a first judgement of a source's trustworthiness:
Relevance: While not explicitly related to a source's trustworthiness, a source's relevance to your topic is an important consideration. Many times, you can get a sense of a source's focus by looking at its title and abstract. If the source doesn't seem to be relevant to your topic based upon the title and abstract, it's unlikely that a reading of the full text will show it to be relevant to your topic. If it's not relevant, don't use it! If it's interesting but not relevant, you can always save it for a later time.
Date: When something was published matters more for some topics than for others. If you're studying educational technology, for instance, an article that's 40 years old is likely not as relevant as something that was published 5 years ago. You may need to get to know your topic a bit before you can determine what is too old to be relevant. There may also be some very influential older sources that have had a big impact on the field that are still relevant.
Where you found it: Where you found a source could mean the journal where it was published. As you get more comfortable with research in your field, you'll learn which journals are considered more high-quality. Sometimes, however, it can take a bit more investigation. One basic distinction is whether or not a journal is peer-reviewed, which you can learn more about in the video on the right. Where could also indicate how you found it - a database, for instance, or via Google. Finding something in a database doesn't automatically mean it's high quality, just as finding something via Google doesn't automatically mean it's not. However, a database will usually provide a lot of context about the source, such as the journal, the author, etc. If you find something via Google, you may need to do a bit more investigating to discover an item's context.
Who wrote it: While you don't need to see an author's C.V. to determine if they are qualified to be the author of a source, you can usually find some information on the source that gives a sense of the author's qualifications, such as where they work or what their degree is in. In general, you want someone who is qualified to speak as an authority on a topic.
Beyond these surface-level considerations, you may sometimes have to dig deeper to determine a source's trustworthiness. The video to the right will cover those aspects.