Evaluating sources

You’ve done the hard yards and found resources for your assignment.

But just because you’ve found them, doesn’t mean you should actually use them. They may be out of date, biased or just plain wrong.

You will need to use your critical thinking skills to evaluate whether a source is suitable to use. Here are five factors to consider before you include a source of information in your assignment.

1. Currency

Check when your source was published and if it has been updated recently. It is important to know how up-to-date information is when you evaluate it for your assignments. Out of date information may not be appropriate.

2. Relevance

Relevance refers to how well the source meets your information needs. You should only use information that addresses your topic. If it barely touches on your topic, then it’s probably not something that you should use.

Also, consider the intended audience. A resource written for young children won’t be relevant for an assignment that asks you to rely on scholarly evidence.

Compare the source to others you have found to check that it is the most appropriate.

3. Authority

Who wrote it? Many journal articles and scholarly sources will provide vital details about the author. Where are they employed? What credentials do they have? What organisations are they affiliated with? This is all important stuff!

Also, consider the publisher or sponsoring organisation. Which journal was the article published in? Which organisation published the book or website? Sometimes the authority comes not from a single author, but from a reputable organisation or publisher.

The web address can also help you determine the authoritativeness of information found online. It can tell you if a source is from government (.gov), educational institution (.edu) or from other less regulated groups (.com, .net and .org).

4. Accuracy

Is your source using evidence to support their argument? Quality sources will usually provide references to other sources. Original research will tell you how they did their research and present data using graphs, and tables of results.

Sources are more likely to be accurate if other sources have verified the information. Look for language that is unbiased and objective.

5. Purpose

Why was the source created? Generally, you should be using sources that are created to inform or teach. Resources designed to sell products, entertain or persuade are less likely to be appropriate for university assignments.

Sources should include evidence and not present opinions. Always check if sources are biased or presenting political, ideological, cultural, religious or personal views.