Insights from BCC Research

Student’s Guide to Evaluating Sources

Bookcase-Books-Bookshelves

As you are diving deep into research for an internship, thesis or capstone, finding credible sources may be challenging. Inaccurate, outdated or questionable sources can make the writer look unprofessional and lead to suspicion within the reader.

Referring to unreliable sources makes your work less powerful. Knowing how to judge sources is important for finding the most current and relevant information. Evaluating sources is an important skill that will not only improve your writing but benefit you for the rest of your academic and professional career.

Where do I start if I’m just beginning my research?

At the beginning of your research project, you will need to conduct preliminary or background information to gather insight on your topic.

If you are just researching background information, it’s okay to refer to popular sources such as Wikipedia¬—but do not cite it as a legitimate source. Double-check the facts from Wikipedia since this site allows multiple users to edit information. Click on the links and references at the bottom of the page for more ideas on your topic.

To narrow down your research even more, use the keyboard key “Ctrl +F” to look for specific words in an article or another resource to go to sections of the piece that are relevant to you.

You could also try Google Advanced Search, which allows you to narrow your search results with specific words, sites or phrases.

To use Google Advanced Search, do the following:

  1. In the Google search bar, click on “Search Tools.”
  2. Click on “Anytime” to find resources for time periods when the source was published to help minimize your research.
  3. Narrow your search down from the past month, year or a custom range.

Additional sources for preliminary research include:

What Qualifies as a Credible Online Source?

When you have completed background research and transition to academic research, it’s important to critique sources to ensure their credibility using the following criteria:

  • Author: Search for information on the author’s credentials or if there is a biographical source. Most online sources do not provide any information about the author—if the source does not have this, it may still be reliable. The rest of the criteria in this list will help you make a determination.
  • Publisher: If your source does not provide the author, review the publisher or sponsor and evaluate their credentials.
  • Self-Published Materials: Avoid authors who published their own material—their work could be biased and carry little weight if it was not convincing to a publisher.
  • Currency: Avoid relying on sources that do not display a publishing date. Ensure the information is not outdated or irrelevant. If research on your topic seems to have slowed down about a decade ago, then it is most likely not valuable anymore.
  • Objectivity: Bias can be defined as a strong inclination for or against a certain topic. Is your source biased? Does this bias impact the conclusion of your research? If so, this source might not be reliable.
    • Purpose: Can you identify a clear purpose? Searching for the author’s purpose will help identify any potential bias
  • Peer-Reviewed: This is an indicator that a resource is scholarly and reliable. Peer-reviewed sources have been reviewed by experts in the same field. To determine whether a source is peer-reviewed, search Ulrich’s guide of periodicals or search the website of the source to review the author and submission or editorial guidelines.
  • The URL: If you see a “.com,” that indicates that the website is commercial. Try to use websites with “.org”, “.edu” or “.gov” to gain more reliable information.

Preliminary Research Source

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an example of a source that you shouldn’t rely on in the context of academic research because it does not meet the criteria outlined above. However, Wikipedia is a good source for background research because it provides a substantial amount of information if you are just beginning your project.

Scholarly Research Source

MIRI

This is an example of a reliable source that meets the criteria of an academic resource. It has a credible URL domain, clear author, publisher, relevant topic and a direct purpose.

How to Find Scholarly Research

Research databases provide accurate, up-to-date published sources and reliable information that has been reviewed by experts.

In research databases, you will find articles from scholarly magazines, primary documents, encyclopedias, literary criticisms and much more. You can usually access databases from your school’s library. If you’re not using the library, conduct a Google search using the phrase “Frequently Used Databases for Students.” Keep in mind that some databases may require you to enter your school library card number or school email and password.

List of Commonly Used Databases

What if I want to use a Book or another Written Source?

Books are a great way to find credible, accurate and detailed information.

First, search your school’s library catalogue or ask your academic librarian to help you find reliable books on your topic. Using your school library is the easiest way to find reliable sources because librarians almost exclusively source scholarly, academic sources.

You can also use Google Books and OneSearch to search for books related to your topic. Search keywords related to your topic and click on any relevant literature comes up. Be sure to use the criteria listed above to determine the credibility of your sources. Additionally, review the foreword, preface, introduction and back cover to determine the reliability of the book.

Written by Daniella Pascucci on Jul 12, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Daniella Pascucci is our Summer Intern at BCC Research. She’s a rising senior at Bates College, and works with our Marketing, Sales and Events teams.

Topics: Academic Institutions