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Evaluating Sources

This tutorial will help you evaluate and analyze sources critically in order to judge their appropriateness to your purpose.

What to look for: Print

  • Who published it? An academic (university) press or a commercial publisher or an organization? The latter two could indicate bias but not always.

  • What is it about? Figuring out purpose is largely dependent on a source's content.

  • Is the source providing information or is it trying to get you to act? If a source is trying to persuade you to do something or think a certain way, it may be biased.

  • Purpose

    Evaluate the purpose of the source, whether it is intended to provide evidence for research claims, sell a product, or promote an ideological, political, or religious orientation. The first purpose, providing evidence to be checked by others, is usually more scholarly in scope and will help to support claims you make in your own papers and projects. The others often provide biased information, coming from someone's-- or a group's--personal opinions.

    It could be argued that it is impossible to be totally value-neutral (unbiased).  As such the best that can be hoped for is that perspectives/bias be recognized. 

    Even significantly biased data may still be useful as long as you recognize the bias. You may need to look for resources with differing bias to get a balanced picture.

    • Is it clear whether the content comes an advertiser or from a non-commercial source?
    • What is the purpose of the resource?  is it trying to inform you or sell you something?
    • Does it make reasonable statements? Or dramatic claims?
    • Do you know what bias the author or publisher has ? Do a search on the author/publisher to see what other resources they are associated with.
    • Does the source provide a balanced viewpoint, or just one side of an argument?

    What to look for: Web

    You will want to ask many of the same questions about a web source as a print source.

    Additional things to look for may be:

    • Is there a place to donate money or purchase items? If so, bias likely exists, and you will want to be aware of that.
    • Does the website have an "about" section that may give you an idea of its purpose?