Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Evaluating Sources

Is it scholarly? Is it reliable? What's the difference? This LibGuide will help you discern trustworthy information from the not-so-trustworthy information.

How can I tell if a source is good or not?

There are many ways to evaluate sources, but ultimately, you want to use sources that are relevant and not redundant.

What makes a source relevant?

Relevancy to your research changes based on the purpose of your writing.

  • Even the worst piece of fake news you've ever seen can be a good source to use if your research topic is "fake news." There are no good or bad sources, only sources that are more or less suited for a given purpose.

Relevancy also changes based on the medium of your writing because different media have different conventions for how they're created.

  • If you're writing a blog about creative writing, you'll use more web sources than if you're writing a scholarly paper about creative writing, and you'll use more journal articles in the scholarly paper than you would for the blog post. 
  • If you're not sure what the conventions are for the medium you're creating in, looking up a how-to guide for creating something in that medium is a great place to start. You can also look at examples of the medium you're creating and see what the common themes are.

Finally, relevancy changes based on the audience of your writing.

  • You wouldn't use the same sources or language to talk about a subject with 5th graders that you would use to talk about it with your peers and you wouldn't use the same kinds of sources to prepare for those talks either. 
  • Certain audiences will also expect you to cite certain source types. Academics will expect you to cite scholarly journal articles, the general population will expect you to cite websites or other source types accessible to them.
  • Try to think specifically about who your audience might be. If your audience is just your instructor, imagine your audience is a broader group of people. What would they expect to see in your writing and in the sources you use?

How do I avoid redundancy?

Choose sources that offer something unique.

  • This one might seem obvious, but it can be really easy to accidentally use multiple sources in your writing that say almost exactly the same thing. If your sources are blurring together and you find it hard to tell why you chose a particular source, that's a good sign that you need to go back to a search tool and find some sources that contribute something unique to your writing.

Remix your research with multiple perspectives.

  • It's okay to remix wildly different concepts and ideas into one piece of writing, and actually, this is what usually produces research that's interesting to write and also interesting to read. Feel free to search for information in subject areas that are adjacent to the one you're writing in - including perspectives from experts in a variety of fields or with a variety of life experiences is a great way to keep your research from including too much of the same information.

I was told to use scholarly sources. What does that mean?

  • "Scholarly, peer-reviewed sources" refers to academic journal articles or books that have been looked over by a group of other academics in the same field to verify quality. Most of the sources you'll find in Alverno databases or Google Scholar will be scholarly sources, but not all will be peer-reviewed - and a source being scholarly doesn't mean it's automatically a good source for your writing.
  • Scholarly sources are especially useful for setting up the background information about your research question. What sorts of studies have been done? Is there current consensus on what you're writing about? Once you've established what the scholars have to say about an issue, you can begin to include what non-scholars think.

I thought scholarly sources were always the best sources to use?

  • In the past, a lot of talk about evaluating sources focused on scholarly sources being better than popular sources like websites or newspapers. Unfortunately, this attitude means that historically, a lot of voices (especially marginalized voices) have been excluded from the scholarly conversation around an issue because academia isn't very accessible to a lot of people, particularly Black and indigenous people.
  • Think about what voices might be missing from your work. If it's appropriate in your project, include popular sources in addition to scholarly sources. Lived experience is often just as valuable a source of expertise as years of study, albeit in different ways, and including additional perspectives can really broaden your work and make it more useful as well as more interesting both to write and to read.
  • If using popular sources isn't appropriate for what you're creating or your instructor won't allow you to use them, try to find other scholarly sources that include those missing voices. It's our responsibility as researchers to make sure that all voices are being heard in our subject areas.

Good sources are unbiased, right?

  • Unbiased information is a myth. All humans have perspectives and biases that are informed by their life experiences and that isn't a bad thing! Bias only becomes a problem when it is not acknowledged and biased information is treated like it's neutral or factual.
  • Most mainstream news organizations are reluctant to openly state their biases because the idea that bias is bad, although incorrect, is pretty ingrained in our culture. Unfortunately, this has only made it even harder to spot fake news and verify the reliability of the information we consume.

What even is fake news, anyway?

  • Fake news is more than just blatantly false news articles created to spread harmful misinformation. It also includes satirical news like The Onion or Clickhole, manipulated imagery like deepfakes, and even clickbait titles that don't match the contents of the article. A really fantastic overview of the types of fake news, how it's disseminated, and what we can do about it can be found from First Draft News.

Okay, but what does that mean for me as a student researcher?

  • Well, the first step to reviewing any source is to be skeptical of outlandish or emotional claims. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction and the stories you read about Florida Man are true, but it's still good to question everything you read online, especially before you spread it or use it in your writing.
  • Below you'll find a few resources you can use for fact-checking anything you're suspicious of. You can always run your fake news through a few of these sites to get a really complete picture of why they're not true, too.