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HI 2921: 1989 and the End of History - Prof. Emily Gioielli: Evaluating Sources

Source Types

Common source types for history research include:

Evaluating Sources: The 5Ws

Questions to Ask When Evaluating the Sources You Find:

The 5 Ws The Surface-Level Questions The Deeper Questions

 

Who?

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?

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?

Is the source appropriate for the type of research you are doing?

Is it relevant to your research?

 

When?

When was this source published? 

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

 

Where?

Where did the authors get their information from? Are citations provided?

Did the authors cite sources that are credible? 

 

Why?

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?

 

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 using a variety of search tools and looking for different points of view? 

Evaluate Sources: The SIFT Method

SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating sources for credibility. The SIFT method was developed by Mike Caulfield

1. STOP. When you find an information source, pause and ask yourself if you are familiar with the website or publication. What is the reputation of the website or the publication?

2. INVESTIGATE. What is the author's expertise? What is the goal of the publication or organization behind the source? Go beyond the source to see what others have said about the author, publication, organization, etc. 

3. FIND additional coverage. Compare information across sources. Where do experts agree? Where do they disagree? Looking at multiple perspectives on a topic will strengthen your understanding of that topic and will help you form your argument. 

4. TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context. Sometimes the information we find is missing crucial context. Trace claims back to the original source. Look for citations to see the authors have cited credible sources to back up their claims. Follow the citations to see what the original sources said. 

Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Source Evaluation Activity

Look at the following sources and consider these questions.

  1. Is this a primary source or a secondary source?
  2. How might you use this source as part of your research process? For example, would you use it to learn some background information on your topic? To find related sources? To support an argument in your paper?
  3. Would you cite this source in your paper?

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Here is a short video on source evaluation from the N.C. State librarians: