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American Economy: ECON 0858

a guide to library sources for this General Education course

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 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.

[Note: Library databases have been "pre-selected" by librarians for their utility in finding credible sources. For this reason, they are an excellent place to start your research. Of course, you can use search engines (such as Google and Bing) to find credible sources on the (free) Internet but the challenge of ensuring their credibility is often greater.]

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 Sometimes information becomes outdated, sometimes current or recent sources are necessary.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 you should ask:

  • 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?