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Research Guide: Evaluating Sources (Websites, Books, Journals, etc.)

This guide introduces new researchers to how to plan their search for information.

First question:

Does you assignment let you use web resources? Many instructors only want you to use scholarly resources, but sometimes you are allowed to use webpages or popular magazines. Either way, you should always evaluate your sources for quality!


*note* Sometimes your instructor will say that you can't use any internet resources. What they normally mean is that you can't use any webpages. The library provides internet access to a large number of scholarly journals, and you can almost always use these for class. Check with your instructor if you're not sure.

What's the address?

You can learn a lot about a website from its address.

.com means that the site is commercial, meaning that it was bought and is owned by an individual or company. These are the most common kind of website and you must be careful when using them.

.gov means that it is a government website. These often have valuable and reliable information on specific topics.

.edu means that it is an educational website, normally owned by a school. These can be good, but keep in mind that you may be looking at a grade school or student's webpage hosted by their college.

.org originally were owned by non-profict organizations, but now anyone can own a .org. Treat them like you would a .com and be very careful. For example: is not a reliable website.

There are others (.net, .us, .mil, etc.) too, but these are the major ones.


Ask yourself: Is this source CRAAP?

Check the source for:

Currency:   When was the source made and was it updated recently?

Relevance: Is it related to your topic and what is its intended audience?

Authority:    Who are the authors and what are their qualifications? (If you can't find the name of the author or a sponsoring organization, be very careful with that website/source.)

Accuracy:   Where does the information on the page come from, is supporting evidence given, and has the information been reviewed by others.

Purpose:    What is the purpose of the source: to entertain, persuade, or inform? Is the page impartial or biased?

Special Note on Relevance and Context

Keep in mind, just because a resource has a line or a quote that you think fits your argument doesn't mean that it is a good, relevant source for your argument. Take the following line from Darwin's On the Origin of Species:

"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different ammounts of light, and for the correction of spherical chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree."

This quote sounds like, Darwin, the "father of evolution", is saying that evolution makes no sense. If we look at the rest of the paragraph; however, we see a different story:

"Reason tells me . . . the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory."

While written in language we don't really use these days (although insuperable is certainly a word worth using!), we can see that Darwin is saying that just because we can't figure out how it would happen, we can't use that to dismiss the theory of natural selection.

REMEMBER: You're not looking for sound bites to get clicks on your blog; you're looking for evidence to support your argument.

Credible Websites?