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Getting Started with Research: Evaluating Sources

Understanding and Choosing Information for Your Assignments

  • Keep in mind that no one source is necessarily always reliable or always unreliable.
  • You can find reliable information in many places and formats -- the library, the web, eBooks, print books, popular and scholarly sources. 
  • Get into the habit of critically assessing each article, book, video, or other source. 

The resources on this page will help you examine information carefully.

Is It Biased or Just Different than What I Know?

We hear the term "fake news" often, but what is more common is "confirmation bias" -- seeking information that we agree with, or that reinforces what we already know and believe. 

So how do you decide what is true? Or what is biased? Some pointers:

Consider the source itself, not whether it matches what you know or believe.

  • Think about who wrote or published the information, and why, and how claims are supported.
  • See "What Makes a Source Good?" on this page.

Examine your own biases.  

  • Bias means preferring certain views, unfairly or reflexively (without thinking).
  • This is unavoidable, but we can learn to consider other viewpoints carefully.

Read articles from different perspectives and think critically about the point of view of each article or news source

  • A broader understanding helps you see where your views fit in the big picture. 
  • A more complete understanding can help you speak or write clearly about a topic.

Two helpful resources:

Filter Bubbles from AllSides.com

Six Questions That Will Tell You What Media to Trust from The American Press Institute

Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News? (5:20)

What Makes a Source Good?

What is a "good" source? There is no one right answer to this. Ask yourself

Is it relevant to your topic? 

  • ​How will this information fit into your paper or presentation?

Is it up-to-date?

  • How up to date do you need it to be? 
  • Don't overlook an older source if the information is still valid.

Does it include references to other information or sources?

  • ​In an article, are claims supported by facts or data?
  • In an academic paper, are study methods explained, and do results seem to support study conclusions?
  • In an opinion piece, do facts support arguments, and do other sources report the same facts?

Is it authoritative? 

  • Is the author a professional or an expert, or do they talk to and/or cite experts?
  • Is the source respected in its field or well known for its quality? 
  • Does the source have an editor?

What is its perspective?

  • Is the source's tone professional?
  • Does the source present well-reasoned or well-researched information?

Why was it created?

  • Is the author or source trying to persuade? Inform? Advocate? Sell something?

Who is the intended audience of your source? Who is your intended audience?

  • Sometimes you'll need peer-reviewed, evidence-based research or academic sources (for example, in the sciences and health).
  • Sometimes, you'll be summarizing views on a topic and might need a wide variety of popular, professional, and academic sources.

Who Funded the Research?

You've probably read news articles about companies funding research that supports their industry. If you need help determining who funded research, ask a librarian. We're here to help!

Evaluating Sources (3:14)

Format Matters (3:42)

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