Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

ENGL1010/ENGL0870

Choosing Appropriate Sources

It Really Does Matter

College writing requires a higher degree of quality and reliability from sources than does high school or personal writing.  The information you use needs to be accurate, credible, reliable, and timely.  The days of doing a Google search and using the first pages you find that talk about your subject are over.  You need to use sources written by subject experts or those who have done quality research on the topic. 

RED FLAGS

It is a safe bet that anything from the following list is not appropriate for an essay in a college course.
  • Any site that sells essays or papers.  Even if they provide essays for free. 
  • Content from an elementary or middle school website.  The information may be good, but you are in college, not elementary school.  You should also probably avoid High School sites, as well.  Again, you are in college now.
  • Essays or blog entries from other college-level essays written by students.  Think about reliability and authority - you want information from subject experts.
  • Wikipedia.  ANYONE can create and edit content on Wikipedia.  Sometimes the references on Wikipedia articles can lead you to sources that are appropriate.
 

 

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating sources involves thinking critically about what you read.  You cannot take for granted that anything you read or hear is true and accurate.  You have to consider who wrote it, why they wrote it, and often where it was published/presented. 

  • Does the author really have any claim to expertise on a subject? 
  • Are they presenting facts or opinions? 
  • Is the author or publication trying to persuade you to believe something or to purchase something?
  • Does the author display obvious bias or even prejudice? 
  • Is it in a serious publication, or is it satirical or humorous in nature?
  • What is the editorial process?  Can anyone post/publish anything they want, or does someone look at submissions first to determine if they meet standards and criteria? (Look at Scholarly vs. Popular for a further discussing of the editorial process in periodicals.) 
  • When was it written?  Information can go out of date.  Also, if it was written recently but contains out of date information, it is probably not a reliable source.  

Keep in mind that your purpose for researching/writing will have an influence on how you evaluate your sources.  Consider the following scenarios:

  • If you are trying to decide what car to buy, it would make sense to look at blogs, forums, etc., where people discuss their opinion, especially of cars they have personally owned or driven.  However, if you are doing research for a paper in college, you will most likely need to have information presented by experts on the subject, not unknown people who just have an opinion on it. 
  • When writing about current events, you may look more to primary sources and reliable news reports than to scholarly analysis, since scholarly analysis takes more time, and the event may have occurred too recently.  
  • Research on medical, technological, and scientific topics will need to focus on more recent publications, since the information in these areas changes rapidly.  You wouldn't want to look at information published in the 1990s when doing research on cancer treatment, unless you are showing how it has changed since then.

With Internet sources it can be difficult to determine quality and reliability. Finding information about who wrote it, their credentials, biases of the author/organization, and purpose can be difficult and sometimes impossible.

  • Look for an About link for the site you are considering. It can give you an idea of the purpose of the site as well as some biases that may exist.
  • Look for advertising on the page. It can be obvious, but sometimes it is linked within the content of the article.
  • You may need to turn off ad blockers to see what is really there. Advertising can indicate bias and purpose. Sites that are designed to sell advertising may not be the most reliable in terms of content.
  • You may need to research your research! If you can't find anything about an author's credentials, you may need to look further to determine credibility and reliability. Just because someone puts their name to an article or website does not mean that they have the credentials appropriate for a college assignment.
  • You may have been told to look at the end of a web address to determine the value of a source. Unfortunately, this is not always a good indicator. Specifically, .edu sites used to be considered safe. However, schools are now regularly publishing student work, which is generally not appropriate source material for your assignments. You must evaluate the site fully, paying special attention to the author and credentials.

You can use several methods to evaluate the sources you find.  For any of them, you need to look at who wrote it, why it was written, when it was written, how accurate it is, and whether it is relevant to the topic you are researching. 
 
Following is a brief video on one method, as well as links to other resources on how to evaluate your sources.  

C.R.A.A.P. TEST

The C.R.A.A.P. test is one method to help you evaluate your sources.  The following short video produced by the Johnson & Wales University Denver Campus Library will show you what it is and how you can use it.

 

OTHER LINKS FOR EVALUATING SOURCES