Evaluating Sources


If you’ve started research and found a few sources, you may be wondering how to identify the best sources. Here are six ways to evaluate the credibility and usefulness of sources.


Do a background check on the author and publisher of the material. A simple Google search will often give us useful information. Do they support a particular political or religious view that could be affecting their objectivity in the piece? If they are associated with a special interest group (i.e., the American Library Association or Keep America Safe), this might also be an indication of bias unless alternative views are presented and addressed with appropriate respect.

Assess the Argument

Identify the author’s main claim. What are they arguing is true or untrue? Pay attention to what the author uses to support their claim – do you find relevant evidence or just emotional examples? Check for logical fallacies in the author’s argument and make sure the author considers opposing viewpoints. Generally, arguments that lack evidence use too many emotional appeals, or use outdated evidence are seen as poorly constructed.


Most reputable websites will list or cite an author, even though you might have to dig into the site deeper than just the section you’re interested in to find it. Some pages will also link a home page or “About Us”/”About This Site” link where an author will be credited.

Once you find the author’s name, see what else you can find out about them, including their background in the area they are writing about. If these authors’ qualifications are not listed on the site itself, search on author sites or in other sources, just be sure you find the write person.


The sponsor or publisher of the site, the person or organization who is footing the bill, will often be listed in the same place as the copyright date or author information. If you can’t find an explicit listing for a sponsor, double check the URL: .com indicates a commercial site, .edu an educational one, .org a nonprofit, .gov a government sponsor, .mil a military sponsor or .net a network of sponsors. The end part of a URL may also tell you what country the website is coming from, such as .uk for the United Kingdom or .de for Germany. Typically, commercial sites are viewed as suspect by teachers and researchers, while nonprofits, educational, and government sources are seen as more trustworthy.


Determine why the site was created and who it was meant to inform. For example, is it a website that was created to sell things or a page hoping to persuade voters to take a side on a particular issue? If it was made to sell things, then it’s considered less reputable.


Depending on the information you are using, the publication date of the site could be vital. Check the bottom of the webpage for the date of publication or the date of the latest update. Most of the links on the site should also still work – if they no longer do, that may be a sign the site is too out of date to be useful. The topic you are writing on typically determines how old a source can be before it is considered obsolete. Researchers in the hard sciences prefer sources to be as new as possible, ideally published no more than three years ago. The humanities, such as History and Literature, allow for older articles and books, especially on more specialized topics. Still, if you find a source that is more than ten years old, you should check with your professor before you use it.


Adapted from Robin Jeffrey’s “Evaluating Sources”  from About Writing: A Guide used according to CC by 4.0.

Adapted from Robin Jeffrey’s “Evaluating Web Sources” from About Writing: A Guide used according to CC by 4.0.




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