Evaluating your source

Just because you see it in print or on your computer screen, do not assume it is accurate or reliable!

Evaluation checklist

Before you use information from a book-or article-for your paper, take a critical look at it. Consider the following:

  • What is the book's purpose?
    Is it to inform, to present opinions, to report research or to sell a product? For what audience is it intended-general public, children, scholarly?
  • Who is the author?
    Are his qualifications, experience, and/or institutional affiliation given? What credentials or special knowledge does he have? Does the author have a certain bias?
  • Who is the publisher?
    Is it published by an academic institution or a large commercial publisher? By a non-profit organization or a business? The publisher may give clues as to the reliability and/or bias of the information presented. If it's a website, what does the URL tell you?
  • Why should I believe this information-what authority does it have?
    Does it contain documented facts or personal opinion? Any footnotes, bibliographies, or lists of references that let you check the accuracy of statistics or factual information? Is the documentation from published sources, not personal webpages?
  • How timely is this information?
    Do you need a new book about current research or issues? Need something written earlier on issues during a certain historical period? Are the statistics and facts cited in the book recent enough for your research needs? If this is a website, is there a "last updated" date shown?
  • What will this information add to your project?
    Does it help you to understand the topic and answer your research question? How does it compare to what you've read in other books and articles? Does it give historical or theoretical context to what you've learned? What aspect of your topic does it not cover? Can you use the bibliography to find more on your topic? Is it a scholarly or a popular source?

Adapted from University of Minnesota Libraries' "Quickstudy."

What can I tell from an Internet address?

An Internet address is also called a URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

Looking at the end of the URL will often tell you something about what kind of website you're visiting-even a clue about how trustworthy or objective the information might be.

URL Type of info Reliability
.com (commercial) Commercial sites, ads, business info, shopping, news !!!
.edu (education) school info, links to libraries & departments !!!!
.gov (government) statistics, public info, facts, agency databases !!!!!
.org (organization) non-profit information, interest group agendas, may try to influence public opinion !!!
.net (network) Internet service provider, often sponsors personal sites !!
~ (tilde) followed by a personal name (someone's personal webpages) Could be great information. (Some educational institutions let individuals post personal material, with no monitoring of contents.) You be the judge!