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English 185: Evaluating Sources

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Things to consider when evaluation sources

Key Criteria

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

Authority: the credentials of the author(s) and 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?

Is it Popular or is it Scholarly?

 

CRITERIA

POPULAR

SCHOLARLY

Audience

Intended for a general audience with no special knowledge of the subject.

Intended for scholars, professionals and others with specialized knowledge of the subject.

Author

Written by a journalist or layperson without significant academic or professional credentials in the field.

Written by an acknowledged or recognized expert in the field, such as an academic scholar or prominent professional.

Content

Consists of general interest items, hot topics, opinions, current news or events, or introductory or overview information.

Consists of research reports, comprehensive and detailed treatments of a specific area of study, or critical reviews.

Style

Uses basic language that the average person understands.

Uses jargon (terminology specific to the field) that only experts and scholars will fully understand.

Publisher

Published by a trade publisher for mass market sales.

Published by a scholarly or academic press for a limited interest market such as libraries and specialists in the field.

Purpose

Written to inform the public about a topic of interest to everyone.

Written to share the results of new research or to inform other experts of a new discovery or theory.

 

Please note that Popular and Scholarly classifications are NOT the same as Primary and Secondary!