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Workshop for McNair Summer Program

Evaluation an information source

Evaluation an information source


Establishing the authority of a document?


Can you identify the author(s)?

What credentials does the author(s) have?

Scholarly sources will list the author’s degrees

What affiliations does the author have? 

A scholarly source will often be written by someone who is affiliated with a university.

What else has the author written?


Intended Audience


Is the language of the source technical and full of jargon or is the language general and easy to comprehend?

Does the source contain statistics, graphs, or tables?

Does a university press or professional organization publish the source?




Is the information source (i.e. book, article or website) an overview of your topic or is it focused just on one aspect of your research topic?

Does this information match the breadth of your research question?




 When was the information published?

Are you researching a scientific or technology related topic?

Timeliness is critical with scientific information.

 When was the information last updated?

 Is this a 2nd or higher edition?


Documentation (scholarly sources will have documentation)


Does the source have a bibliography and/or footnotes?

Does the author consult other sources?




Is this an editorial?

Is the author’s point of view easy to see?

Is the information published organization that has established editorial position on the topic?




Does this work cite, agree with, or update other sources on your topic?

Does this source cover a variety of viewpoints?


Primary vs. secondary research


Primary research is original research findings for the first time.

Examples: journal article or book presenting a new theory or findings

Secondary research is an evaluation or overview of previously presented research.

Example:  Textbook, encyclopedia, Annual Reviews.


Is this a primary or secondary source?


Primary sources are first hand documents or data. A poem, novel, diary, eyewitness account and research data can all be primary documents. New research is often based on primary documents.

Secondary documents give an overview or interpretation of primary source material. 



From  Penn State University Libraries 


Identifying emotions:

  • What are your honest opinions regarding the topic?
  • Have you addressed your internal biases?
  • Make an all-inclusive list of counter-opinions or counter-arguments.
Finding unbiased resources:
  • Conduct a general knowledge overview.
  • Search for information in : encyclopedias, wikis, dictionaries, etc.
Intellectual courage:



  • Who is the author (may be individual or organization) and/or publisher?
  • What are the credentials and affiliation or sponsorship of any named individuals or organizations?
  • How objective, reliable, and authoritative are they?
  • Have they written other articles or books?
  • Is/Are the author(s) listed with contact information (street address, e-mail)?
  • Do they specialize in publishing certain topics or fields?
Purpose/Point of view of source 
  • Does the author have an agenda beyond education or information?
  • What can be said about the content, context, style, structure, completeness and accuracy of the information provided by the source?
  • Are any conclusions offered? If so, based on what evidence and supported by what primary and secondary documentation?
  • What is implied by the content?
  • Are diverse perspectives represented?
  • Is the content relevant to your information needs?
  • Why was the information provided by the source published?
  • What are the perspectives, opinions, assumptions and biases of whoever is responsible for this information?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is anything being sold?
  • Does the publisher have an agenda?
  • When was the information published?
    • Publication date is generally located on the title page or on the reverse side of the title page (copyright date).
  • Is the information provided by the source in its original form or has it been revised to reflect changes in knowledge?
  • Has the publisher published other works?
  • Is this information timely and is it updated regularly?
  • Is the publisher scholarly (university press, scholarly associations)? Commercial? Government agency? Self (“vanity”) press?
List of resources
  • Where else can the information provided by the source be found?
  • Is this information authentic?
  • Is this information unique or has it been copied?
Year of publication
  • Is this information current? Can you find more current or relevant information?
  • Is the cited information current? Make sure work is not based on outdated research, statistics, data, etc.
  • Is the information routinely updated?