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Philosophy of the Human: PHIL 0839

Evaluating Information Sources

Your sources should both be credible (trustworthy) and appropriate (consistent with your research purpose)!

Below you will find information and questions that will help you think about search tools and sources. You need not answer each and every question to determine the usefulness of a source. Rather, use your critical reasoning skills to ask what you think are the most pertinent questions about each source.


Understand Your Search Tools

Why should you know something about the search tools you are using?

  • Most Internet search tools are databases (Google, Facebook, academic research databases).

  • Understanding some simple facts about a database can help you make smarter research decisions.

Questions to ask about a search tool:

  • Who produces the search tool? 

  • Who are the intended customers?  

  • What is its revenue source?

  • What is its purpose (or purposes)?

  • How large is this database?

  • What kinds of sources does it contain?

  • What subject areas does it cover?


Academic Search Complete


Google Scholar


New York Times Search


US Newsstream

Yahoo News


Understand the Context of Your Information Sources

Why is Context important? Context helps to reveal the intellectual and editorial conditions under which a source is written and published.

  • Credible publishers and web sites carefully vet authors and sources before publishing them.

  • Credible authors generally have experience and expertise in the areas about which they are writing.

  • The intended purpose of a source provides insight on the possible bias or limited perspective of a source.

  • Publication dates are always important. Sometimes information becomes outdated, sometimes current or recent sources are necessary. Knowing a publication date allows the researcher to search for information before or after that date.

Questions to ask about context:

  • What is the publication or web site in which the source (article) appears? What do you know about this publication? Does it publish other articles on the same topic?

  • Who is the author? What are the author's credentials? Does the author frequently write about this subject?

  • Is your source from a newspaper, magazine, journal, or web site? Who is the intended audience of this source? The general public? The scholarly / research community?

  • What is the purpose of this source? To provide information, data, or facts? Entertainment or a sales pitch? To advocate for a political or economic position?

  • When was this source published? Are you working on a topic that requires a recent source?

Understand the Content of Your Information Sources

The Content provides the actual facts, information, data, or argument

  • A credible source in a credible publication is well-written, grammatical, and reports facts accurately.

  • If the author makes an argument, it should be coherent. The argument is much stronger if the author provides persuasive evidence to back it up.

  • The evidence, including data and metrics, should fit the facts of the argument.

  • A credible source refers to, links to, or cites credible individuals or sources.

Questions to ask about content:

  • Is the source well-written? Are there grammatical errors?

  • Does your source make an argument? Does it make sense?

  • What kinds of evidence support the argument? If numerical data is included, do you understand it? Does it support the argument?

  • Does the author cite sources? What kinds of sources are they?

  • Are there links? Where do the links lead and what do they tell you about your source?

Understand Different Types of Sources

Sources are written with an intended audience and purpose. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What kind of source is this?

  • Who is the audience?

  • What is the purpose?

  • What do you know about the author and/or publisher?