Whatever source you're looking at, whether it's a book, journal article, or web page, you should always apply these six Evaluation Criteria: Accuracy, Authority, Purpose, Currency, Objectivity and Appropriateness.
- Do you notice any factual errors? Math or calculation mistakes? "Facts" that contradict each other?
- Does this source say things that can't be verified in other sources?
- Are there lots of typos, spelling and grammatical errors? (If someone is sloppy with their presentation, it might indicate a sloppiness with their facts as well. )
- Who is the author? Do they make it clear or try to hide it?
- What are the author's credentials or occupation?
- If no author is listed, are there any indications as to where the information came from, like an organization?
- What is the purpose of this source?
- To inform or make research available?
- To persuade you to support a cause?
- To sell a product or get your money?
- To entertain or pull your leg?
- Who is the intended audience? The general public? 3rd graders? Scholars? Star Trek enthusiasts?
- How old is this source?
- Is a date listed?
- Is it important for your topic that the information be current?
- Are there newer developments that aren't addressed in this source?
- Are different perspectives on the issue presented?
- Does the source present facts or opinions?
- Is the source published, sponsored, or endorsed by a special interest group?
- Is this source appropriate for my specific topic?
- Does the information help to answer, or shed light on, my research question?
- Is the language appropriate for my level of understanding?
- Does this source add anything new to my understanding of the topic? What does it offer that other sources don't?
Not living up to all of these criteria doesn't automatically make a source "bad." Many things depend on your topic and the nature of the assignment. Although not every single source for every single paper must meet these criteria, it's important to have some that do. And it's important to recognize when a source doesn't meet these criteria. Let's look at some examples on the next page...