IV . Evaluation And Selection of Sources
With ongoing proliferation of both printed and electronic materials, we are surrounded by sources. This would seem to make finding sources to use in a paper an easy matter, and it often does. The disadvantage is that not all sources are equal in quality, accuracy, and reliability. This is especially true of materials found on the Internet. Therefore, it is your responsibility to judge the value of the sources that you are discovering.
Some aspects to consider:
- Who or what produced the source?
- Depending on the topic, is the source fairly current?
- Does the source appear in a reliable, time-tested location?
Use your common sense and look for clues of style, tone, and slant. Most publications (including web pages) will include the credentials of the author.
According to Rosa and Eschholz, electronic sources can be especially difficult to evaluate. There are many types of information available on the Internet. Reliable, time-tested sources such as The New York Times have their own websites, while other magazines and journals have been converted to electronic format and are available through subscription services that are commonly available through libraries. Experts in a field may also create a web page to share information. The down side to the Internet is that anyone can create a web page, so the pages are likely to be of varying reliability.
In evaluating an electronic resource, the general guidelines for evaluating all sources apply, but there are some special aspects that you can consider to help you judge the source.
- What type of web page are you viewing?
Web page Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) that end with .edu are from educational institutions; .gov indicates that the web pages are created by a government source; .org means that the originator is a non-profit organization; .com is for commercial groups and businesses (that are more likely to be trying to sell you a product than give you unbiased information).
- Who is the author?
What individual or group is responsible for the web site? Find out if a group officially sanctions the site. Most experts will provide their credentials to verify what they say; if credentials are missing, it is best to be wary and skeptical.
- What is the purpose?
Clarify the author's purpose for publishing a website—is it to share information or sell a product?
- How is the information presented?
You should test for objectivity. Examine the text to see if advertising, opinion and facts are clearly distinguished. Look for any bias in the text.
- Is the information accurate?
Determine if the given information is documented. Evaluate the quality of the writing to determine if the text is well-written and free of careless errors in spelling and grammar. Are there links to other sites that can be used to verify the information?
- Is the information current?
Is the information given out-of-date? Usually it is best to use the most recent information available. The most recent update of the web page should be shown somewhere on the page.
- Is the topic covered adequately?
Check that the web site is fully developed and extensive. You may want to check against printed equivalent resources (Rosa and Eschholz 36).
Checklist for Evaluating Sources
The following list of questions can be used to help evaluate the quality of printed and electronic resources. If the answers to the questions are not clear to you, then you probably should not rely on the source that you have in hand. In all research, using a balance of print and electronic resources will help you as you evaluate the sources.
- Source: Who published the material?
(a) Is the author/publisher identifiable?
(b) Are credentials or qualifications given for the author?
(c) Is it from a company trying to sell something or from a professional association or organization reporting on research?
- Content: Is the material accurate and current?
(a) Have you found any other supporting information that indicates that the source is accurate?
(b) Is a date given for when the material was written?
(c) Can you verify the information presented?
- Objectivity: Is the material free from bias?
(a) Can you determine whether the author is favoring a particular view?
(b) Is the information presented as fact or opinion?
(c) Is the material presented in a well-reasoned and organized fashion?
- Scope: Is the coverage appropriate for the topic?
(a) Is the source updating other information?
(b) Is the level of the material appropriate or is it too technical to understand?
(c) Is the topic covered in depth?
MCC Guide to Writing Research Papers.
Developed by: M. DiSano, A. Penwarden, S. Callan.
Revised version August 2006. Copyright Monroe Community College.