No matter which type of source you use, there are general guidelines you should apply when evaluating them. Think about who, when, why, and what:
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- Why was it written?
- What is it?
Who wrote it?
Knowing who wrote the information you are using can help you to determine if the information is reliable.
Is the author identified?
- Is the article signed? Look for a name by the title or at the end of the source.
Is any information given about the author?
- This information is often listed at the beginning or end of the source.
How does the author know anything about the subject?
- Has your instructor mentioned this author?
- Have you seen the author's name listed on other sources?
Is the author affiliated with an organization or institution?
- Look near the author's name or in the author information area.
- Sometimes knowing where the author works can indicate the author's credibility, expertise, and/or bias.
- Does the author represent a particular interest group? If so, you can look at the organization's web site to get more information.
If you need more information about an author, ask a librarian to help you.
When was it written?
Knowing when the information was written may or may not be significant for your subject. For some subjects, you need current information; for others, older information is useful.
Is there a publication date?
- Look on the source for a date
Is the information up-to-date?
- Is currency critical for your subject area?
- For example, for information on computers you will usually want the most recent information.
- For research in history, older information can still be relevant.
Why was it written?
Knowing the author's intent will help you to make an informed decision about whether to use, or how to use, the information.
Read the material to see if you can determine the author's motivation. Are they:
- Presenting results of research?
- Trying to entertain?
- Informing you about the topic?
- Attempting to sway your opinion?
- Presenting more than one viewpoint on the issue?
- Looking for publicity?
- Attempting to generate controversy?
- Sponsored by a particular organization or interest group?