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HU 3900: Inquiry Seminar - Asian Nationalism

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

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

Source Types

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?

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?

There is no 'bad' type of document, but some have gone through a more rigorous review process than others.

 

When?

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?

Where did you find the source? A library database? A website?

Be strategic about where you look for sources. What databases are likely to have the type of information that you need?

 

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?

 

How?

How did the author(s) gather data and information? Did they include citations? Was their work reviewed by anyone else?

Did the authors derive reasonable conclusions from the research?

 

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? 

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.

Source Evaluation Activity

Look at the following sources and consider these questions.

  1. 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?
  2. Would you cite this source in your paper?