Evaluating Sources

Not all information is good, valid information. Evaluation means that you look carefully at your information sources to determine whether the source is reliable and appropriate for your information need. You should always evaluate any information source you use.

Key Criteria
Other Considerations
Evaluation and the Internet

Key Criteria

There are seven key criteria to consider when evaluating your sources:

Authority: the credentials of the author(s) and to the publisher of the information.
Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why?

Currency: date of publication and the time period covered by the information.
Is the publication current or historic? Does it matter?

Accuracy: the overall reliability and correctness of the information.
Are the facts and statistics correct and verifiable?

Scope: the completeness of the coverage.
Is the publication comprehensive or selective? What is the focus of the source? Is it relevant to your information need?

Objectivity: the point of view taken in the material.
Is there an obvious bias or does it appear to be relatively objective? Is the author simply providing factual information or expressing an opinion?

Documentation: whether the material cites the sources of the information that is presented.
Do the authors or editors include references or is the information compiled from unknown sources?

Presentation: how the material is organized and supplemented.
Are there good access points such as a table of contents or an index? Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

Other Considerations

Is the source popular or scholarly? Which will better fulfill your information need?

Is the source primary or secondary? Which will better fulfill your information need?

Evaluation and the Internet

Evaluating sources online is very similar to evaluating print sources. In addition to the key criteria and other considerations, look at the domain of the website.

The domain is the main part of the address; for example, the domain of Randolph-Macon College is The last three letters, or domain suffix, will help you determine the authority and objectivity of a website.

These are some of the most common domain suffixes:

.com Commercial site, available to anyone.

.edu Educational institutions, regulated by Educause and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Randolph-Macon College

.gov Federal government site.
Library of Congress

.info Informative site, available to anyone.
Libraries in the United States

.int Site of an international organization, regulated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.
World Health Organization

.mil Military site, regulated by the U.S. Department of Defense.
United States Air Force

.net Network or commercial site, available to anyone.
Academic Info

.org Organizational site, available to anyone.
American Heart Association

Countries also have their own 2-letter codes, such as .au for Australia.

For additional information about evaluating internet sources, see Critical Evaluation of Resources on the Internet (University of Alberta Libraries).

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