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How to Evaluate Research Sources

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Information Literacy

"Info what?"  According to ACRL's Information Literacy Glossary, in a nutshell, it is the "set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information." 

To be "information literate", an information consumer - like you - needs to be able to determine the credibility of an info bit as they do their research, whether it be academic, real-world, or recreational. 

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

When choosing appropriate sources for your research, it may be important to consider whether your source is a popular (general) one or a scholarly one.

Making Good Decisions

Not all information is created equal.

When engaging in research, you have to be a savvy information shopper - and consumer. The Digital Literacy Project at Cornell University suggests:

  1. Know where and how to search efficiently to find the best information for your purposes (it may not be Google).
  2. Make good decisions regarding the quality and appropriateness of your sources, including whether a source is trustworthy and up to date.
  3. Know who has permission, or the right, to the sources you use.
  4. Know how to properly give credit to others for their ideas.
  5. Know the extent to which you can ethically remix or synthesize others' ideas and information in your own work.


Skepticism is a Powerful Tool

Whether buying a new laptop or choosing to believe the latest rumor, you're constantly evaluating information - can it be believed? Your skepticism is a powerful tool in evaluating information.

Information comes in different formats, but there are some common elements that will help you decide what's credible. Consider:

  • Authorship. Who is the author or producer of the information? Who is the publisher? What experience or education does the author have in this area? Are they an expert or experienced in the subject?
  • Intent. What is the motive or intention for sharing this information? Educational? For profit? To sway public opinion for political purposes? This will help you consider the degree of objectivity of the information.
  • Currency. How current is the information? How stable is it (will it be accessible in a year)?
  • Verifiable. Is the information presented with verifiable facts? Are there references?
  • Cross-Checked. Has the information been reviewed by experts? Has it been "peer-reviewed"? Do others you trust believe the information is credible?

Common Tips & Tricks

There are a multitude of acronyms and tricks to evaluating sources. Use the method preferred by your instructor, knowing that the important component is to develop a habit or pattern you can use when evaluating all information.


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