The Important Questions of Evaluation: Digging Into Your Sources (3 Levels)
|The 5 Ws (and one H)
|The Surface-Level Questions
|The Deeper Questions
Who is the author, editor, or creator? Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
|What makes them qualified? First-hand experience? An advanced degree?
What type of document is it? For example, is it a newspaper article? A blog? A government website? A scholarly article? A book?
What is it about?
|There is no 'bad' type of document, but some have gone through a more rigorous review process than others.
When was this source published? Is the information up-to-date?
|The 'up-to-date'-ness of a source matters more for some research questions than others.
Where did you find the source? A library database? A website?
For websites, what is the URL ending? For example, .com? .gov? .org? .edu?
|Be strategic about where you look for information. Which search tool, database, or website is most likely to have the kind of information you need.
What was the goal of the author or publisher? Is there bias?
|Bias does not necessarily negate credibility. We all have biases. The question then becomes: are those biases disclosed? Do they impact the quality of the information?
How did the author(s) gather data and information? Did they include citations? Did they derive reasonable conclusions from the research?
|Did the author(s) only cite themselves/their associates? How well did they explain their process? Was their work reviewed by anyone else?
Many of these questions will NOT (a) be easy to find answers to and (b) tell you that the source you are reading is 100% credible, but they are still important to ask. Digging into a source itself and finding out more about it is part of the research process.
Evaluating sources is an ongoing activity you will do throughout your research, and it includes evaluation of your own search process.
As you search, pay attention to the keywords and phrases you are using. Are you looking for information that will only confirm what you already suspect, or are you looking for possibly contradictory or opposing information as well? Do you have any 'go-to' sources that you use to find information? Are you looking in too narrow or too broad an area for information?
Here is a short video on evaluating sources from the N.C. State librarians: