Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Literacy and the Research Process: Evaluating Resources

This guide was created to address the information literacy general education outcome.

Evaluating Sources

Step 1

Evaluating Your Resources

You always need to evaluate sources you include in your research. There are three broad areas to consider in evaluating your sources:

  1. Who created the content?
  2. What is the purpose of the content? Is there an agenda or bias present?
  3. When was the content created? Is it current?

Continue through the following steps to learn how to evaluate your information sources and why it's important.

Step 2

Credibility

Credibility is one of the MOST important things to consider when doing research. Any person is capable of distributing information that may or may not be factual. The Internet makes it easy to move information quickly, regardless of accuracy. Remember the information cycle? Do you recall how quickly false information can get accepted as fact?

Credibility is Contextual. A tweet may be appropriate to use for research depending on the source of the tweet and your topic. For example, if you are researching public policy, a tweet from President Obama or the White House will likely be more valuable than a tweet from White Castle. But if you are researching marketing trends in the fast food industry, White Castle tweets may be a perfectly reasonable source for your project.

Use the Content Credibility Checklist to help determine the credibility of your resource. Ask the following questions about your resources.

For all resources:
  • Who is the author? If there is no author listed, you will have to judge the information based on the sponsoring organization.
  • What are the content creator's qualifications? Do they have education and/or other credentials related to the topic (i.e. an advanced degree, work experience)?  Is their background legitimate?
  • Is the source a known, trusted source? Who is the sponsoring organization that has released this information? What is their reputation?
For web resources:
  • What is the domain name? Sites with the suffix .gov are generally reliable but other domains must be judged on a case by case basis, this includes sites ending with .edu and ANY .com site.
  • Is there an about link? About links generally provide information on the individual and/or organization responsible for the website.
For Books:
  • Look at the book jacket. Information about the author is usually located on the book jacket.  This information can be confirmed online. Check the author’s employment and publishing credits, for example.
  • Look for publisher information. University Presses are usually trustworthy sources. Popular presses and most self-published books are not scholarly and must be evaluated on other criteria.
For Journal Articles:
  • Look for author information. If the article is from a peer-reviewed journal, author information may include education, current professional position, and contact information. The peer review process is a primary indicator of a scholarly journal. Most college research papers should rely heavily on peer reviewed articles as resources.

 

Step 3

Bias & Intent

Bias in research comes when a resource, whether it is a book, an article, or a website, puts forth an opinionated perspective of a topic that cannot be supported by data. Bias is generally unavoidable, but it can be limited. Pay attention to the language used in your resource and whether or not the author tries to limit their bias in any way. Claims of absolute certainty point to an overly biased author. Not all bias is bad but it is something you need to consider for each resource you use.

Media Bias

Access this independent learning guide to learn how to uncover media bias.

In some instances, bias may be a good thing. If you are researching the American Civil War and using primary source material, the perspective provided by Northern authors will differ considerably from the perspectives of Southern authors.

Intent refers to the purpose of a resource, but relates closely to bias. The more biased a resource is, the more apparent the intent will be.

To observe and evaluate your information for bias, ask the following questions about your resources.

For All Resources:
  • What is the purpose of this resource? Is it meant to be persuasive? Educational? Used as propaganda?  Are they selling something?
  • Is there an agenda present? Having an agenda doesn’t automatically disqualify a resource, but you need to be aware and use the information in the appropriate context.
  • Are both sides represented?​ If not, try finding another resource that shows the opposite perspective.  This will give your reader a better understanding of your topic.
  • Is there data that has been ignored?​ Perhaps there is other research that offers data which contradicts the data in your resource.  Is this contradiction addressed?  Is it ignored?
For Web Resources:
  • What is the web address? While not always significant, information from DOGS.COM may offer a very different perspective than CATS.COM.
  • Is there an about link? About links generally provide information on the individual and/or organization responsible for the website.
For Books:
  • Find out as much as you can about the author. Look for information on an author's research interests, education, and professional memberships.  Read reviews of the author's books.
For Journal Articles:
  • Journal articles are generally free from bias. Still, there are some journals where the peer-review process is not quite as thorough as many top journals.

Step 4

Currency

Currency is a fairly straightforward concept. Depending on your topic, you generally want to use the most up-to-date information in a research paper.

This can vary, however, between disciplines. Medical and scientific disciplines tend to use resources published within the past five years. Liberal Arts resources can retain value for decades, allowing researchers to compare and contrast treatment of different texts (e.g. a painting, a play, or a classic novel) at different periods of history.

Current information is also easier to verify.

Step 5

Checklist For Currency

Credibility is one of the MOST important things to consider when doing research. Any person is capable of distributing information that may or may not be factual. The Internet makes it easy to move information quickly, regardless of accuracy. Remember the information cycle? Do you recall how quickly false information can get accepted as fact?

Use the Currency Checklist to help ensure your research is valuable and up-to-date. Currency supports accuracy. You would not want to use resources from the 1930's as a guide for current medical procedures. New research is published constantly and new content reaches the web every second.

To evaluate the currency of your information, ask the following questions about your resources.

When was the resource created?
Books, articles, and most websites will include a publication date.
How relevant is currency to your topic?
Currency is more important to some topics than others. For example, Technology and Health Sciences generally require more timely information than History and Religion.
Is more current information available?​
Is there a newer edition of a certain title?  Has newer research been conducted?  Is there new data not accounted for by this resource?
When was the content last updated?​
Scan the edges of webpages, looking for a “last updated” date. This is often at the bottom of a webpage.

Ask A Librarian

Ask A Librarian

If you have any questions about the Research Process, using library resources, or completing these modules, please contact one of our Reference Librarians via the contact information below. You can always call a librarian at 260.638.VANN (8266). Librarians are also available through text at 260.222.5054.

 

Reference Librarians

Kerri Killion-Mueller, MLIS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6046

kkillion@sf.edu

Amber Pavlina, MA, MLS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6067

apavlina@sf.edu

 

 

 
 

Contact

Lee & Jim Vann Library

Pope John Paul II Center

First and Second Floor

Room 101 & 201

260.399.8060