Evaluating Sources

Decide if Your Source Is Scholarly
Guidelines for what is considered a scholarly source.

How to Evaluate Websites
Is that website reliable? Here's some information to help you decide.

Watch a video on scholarly vs. popular sources.

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly

How can you tell if the book, magazine/journal article or website would be considered a scholarly source? Here are some clues to help you decide. If you can't decide from these hints, ask the librarian or your instructor for help.

Scholarly Source Non-Scholarly Source
Articles or books are written by a scholar or a professional in the field. May be written by a professional writer who is not an expert in the field.
Always cite their sources of information in the form of footnotes or bibliography. Rarely offers information (footnotes or bibliography) about the sources of information.
Text gives research results, includes specialized vocabulary and is aimed at a scholarly audience. Text reports events or opinions and is aimed at a general audience (easy to read).
Journal cover and pages tend to be plain in design, with few or no pictures or graphics. Tend to be highly pictorial. Magazines accept advertising.
Most are published by professional organizations, associations, scholarly groups or universities and colleges. Are generally published for profit.  May be intended as a vehicle of opinion: political, moral or ethnic.
Authors are always named, and their institutional affiliation is given. Authors may be anonymous.
Journal issues are likely to be successively numbered (for example, issue 1 includes pages 1-356, issue 2 has pages 357-585, etc.) Magazine issues are likely to begin with page 1.
Articles may be long. Articles may be short, some only 1-2 pages.
Journal issues tend to be published less often (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually). Magazine issues tend to be published more frequently (monthly, weekly, daily).
Journals would usually be found in a library or in a professor's office. Magazines can be found at any bookstore or convenience store.
Examples: Articles in Journal of American History, Journal of Educational Psychology or books published by a University Press written by a scholar with footnotes. Examples: Articles in Newsweek, National Review or books published by Scribner written by a journalist or professional writer without footnotes.

Evaluating Websites

Since the World Wide Web is not controlled by any one entity, anyone with a computer and basic knowledge of HTML can publish pages on the Internet. Print information automatically goes through a peer review or editorial process, but information on the Internet does not. This is why it is so important to evaluate the information you retrieve.

The following are some guidelines to help you evaluate information you find on the "free" Internet.

1. Author or Authority

Can you tell who is responsible for the information on the page, such as an individual author, publisher or organization?

Are the author's affiliation and credentials listed?

Is the author qualified to write about the subject?

Can you contact the author of the page?

The domain name can often provide clues about who is responsible for a site. For example, domain names ending in .edu are educational sites and .gov indicates government sites.

2. Accuracy

Can you verify statistics or other facts on the website?

Does the information agree with what you found in traditional print sources?

Are there only minimal errors on the page?

Are bibliographic references to source information given?

Has the Web page gone through an editorial or peer-review process?

3. Objectivity or Bias

Is the information on the page presented objectively?

Are opinions stated as facts?

Is the entity responsible for the page clearly trying to advance a certain agenda?

What is the motivation of the organization to provide this information?

4. Currency

Is the information current?

Can you tell when the information was created or how often it is updated?

Does the page contain numerous "dead links?"

Current information is especially important in quickly changing fields, such as medicine and technology. Information on classic literature or history does not need to be as current.

5. Level of Coverage

Who is the intended audience?

Is the information covered at the appropriate level for your needs?

Is the material covered in an in-depth manner?

If you are looking for information on hurricanes, and you find a website on weather that is geared toward grade school students, it is probably not going to be appropriate for a college-level paper.