TRUMAN STATE UNIVERSITY Pickler Memorial Library Truman State University

Evaluating Sources

The basic considerations for evaluating any type of information are much the same no matter what the format of the information. You are always going to be concerned about who wrote the information and  its accuracy.  Below is a detailed checklist of evaluation criteria for all types of information.

Initial Appraisal

Author  -  What are the author's credentials?  Where does he/she work, educational background, past writings or experience?    Is the author cited in other information sources?

Date of Publication - When was the information created, published or revised?  Is the source current for your topic?

Edition or Revision - "Is this the first edition of this publication?  Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with its intended reader's needs.  Also, many printings or editions may indicated that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable.  If you are using a Web source,   do the pages indicate revision dates?"*

Publisher - If the sources is published by a university or a government agency, it is likely to be reputable, although that is not guaranteed.

Title of Journal - "Is this a scholarly or a popular journal?  This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas."* Journals generally: are published monthly or quarterly; contain scholarly research and primary resource material; don't have many ads.  Magazines generally: are published weekly or monthly; contain popular literature; have lots of ads.

World Wide Web Site Uniform Resource Locator (URL) - The URL can provide clues as to the authority of  a web site.  It may give the institution (company, government, university, etc.) or Internet provider that supports the information.  The domain names listed below give you some idea of what type of institution is involved. Countries also have domain names, for example: uk   stands for the United Kingdom

from: "Generic Top-Level Domains" 17 July, 2005. Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia.   19 July, 2005. <>.

Content Analysis

Intended Audience - "What type of audience is the author addressing?  Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?  Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced or just right for your needs?"*

Objective Reasoning -

  1. "Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.
  2. Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.
  3. Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic? The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should           scrutinize his or her ideas.
  4. Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?"*
Coverage -
  1. "Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
  2. Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. For example, if you were researching Konrad Adenauer's role in rebuilding West Germany after World War II, Adenauer's own writings would be one of many primary sources available on this topic. Others might include relevant government documents and contemporary German newspaper articles. Scholars use this primary material to help generate historical interpretations--a secondary source. Books,  encyclopedia articles, and scholarly        journal articles about Adenauer's role are considered secondary sources. In the sciences,  journal articles and conference proceedings written by experimenters reporting the results of their research are primary documents. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity."*
 Writing Style - "Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?"* Evaluative Reviews -

You can find sources that review: general books; literature; film/theater/television; magazines and journals; and web sites at Reviews

  1. "Is the review positive? Is the source under review considered a valuable contribution to the field? Does the reviewer mention other sources that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.
  2. Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the source or has it aroused controversy among the critics?"*

Try the Evaluating Sources Jigsaw Puzzle (

*Many thanks to the Reference Department; Instruction, Research, and Information Services (IRIS); Cornell University Library
Ithaca, NY, USA
permission to reproduce and adapt their excellent guide: Critically Analyzing Information Sources 6 Oct. 2004. Cornell University. 20 July 2005.<>.


Encouraging Discovery