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HI 2329: European Empires: Evaluating Sources

Types of Sources Used in Historical Scholarship

Source types make up the scope of the literature you are searching. Common source types for historical research include:

  • Books that encompass a single work
  • Books that incorporate multiple works (collections of papers by historians)
  • Peer-reviewed journal articles 
  • Primary sources

Evaluation is a Process

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. What type of source best suits the needs of your research?

Is the source relevant to your research topic?


When was this source published? Is the information up-to-date? 

Is the publication date appropriate for the type of research you are doing?


Where did the author(s) get their information from? Did they include citations?

What types of sources do they cite?


What was the goal of the author or publisher?

Who is the intended audience? 

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?

Is the source written for scholars or for the general public?


How was the source reviewed and edited?

Was the source peer-reviewed?

Use the question above as a guide to help you determine if the source you found is appropriate for the type of research that you are doing. 

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? 

Peer-Reviewed Journals

What are "peer-reviewed" journals?

A peer-reviewed journal is a respected publication. Before articles are published within these types of journals, they are sent by the editors of the journal to other scholars in the field ("peers"), often anonymously, to get feedback on the quality of the scholarship, review research methods, as well as relevance or importance to the field. The article may be accepted, often with revisions suggested, or rejected for publication. Many peer-reviewed journals have low acceptance rates.

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

  • What is TRAAP? (0:05)
  • Timeliness (0:26)
  • Relevance (1:03)
  • Authority (1:46)
  • Accuracy (2:15)
  • Purpose (2:40)