Evaluating sources, whether they are primary or secondary, online or in print, is an important part of the research process. Consider the following questions in order to effectively evaluate and gain a more critical understanding of your sources.
Who created the item? What are the author's qualifications? What is their affiliation? What is their relationship to the information contained in the source? For online sources, what organization sponsors the website?
Purpose and Pespective
Why was the item created? Is it meant to inform, explain, persuade? Who is the intended audience? Is information presented objectively or with bias?
When was the material published? Does the date of publication make it less useful? For online sources, is the site maintained/updated? Are there dead links on the website?
Accuracy and Completeness
Is the evidence reliable? Are the important points covered? How does the source compare to other similar sources? What may have been left out?
Footnotes and Documentation
Are the author's sources clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?
Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide and The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
|Element||Scholarly/Academic Source||Non-Scholarly/Popular Source|
|Purpose||To share with other scholars the results of research & experiments||To entertain or inform in a broad, general sense|
|Author||A respected scholar or researcher in the field, an expert in the topic; names are always noted||A journalist or feature writer; names not always noted|
|Publisher||A university press, a professional association or known (independent) scholarly publisher||A commercial publisher|
|Intended Audience||Other scholars or researchers in the field, or those interested in the topic at a research level||General public|
|Content||Formal presentation of scholarly work in a standard style, often with an abstract at the beginning of the article. Often include specific section headings, such as literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, and discussion/further study||Often presented in story format, with anecdotes from other people|
|Style||Language is very formal and technical, usually contains discipline-specific jargon||Language is casual (high school reading level or lower). Few, if any, technical terms are used (and if they are, they are usually defined)|
|References||References are always cited and expected; can be called "works cited" or "bibliographies;" text often contains footnotes||Very uncommon; text may contain vague referrals to "a study published at..." or "researchers have found that..." with no other details about that information|
Adapted from the Valparaiso University Library.
For more information on evaluating primary sources:
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