Skip to main content

Help With ~ Evaluating Sources: Evaluating Sources

Keep in mind:

Authority is Constructed and Contextual
Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.

Scholarship as Conversation
Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.

Source Evaluation

Consider the following questions when you evaluate a source for use in persuading your readers:

1. Who is the author?

a. What is her or his area of expertise?

b. Institutional or agency or organizational affiliation(s)? If so, what are the stated values and goals of those groups? How might they affect reader perceptions of this author’s work?

c. Where does s/he publish? Online? In journals? In magazines or newspapers? In books published by university presses, organizations, associations, or commercial publishing houses only? In publications produced by a single agency or institute?

Consider the following:

i. Commercial publishing houses like MacMillan, Time/Warner, or Knopf

ii. University presses, like the University of Washington Press

iii. Associations, societies, businesses, industries, services that publish their own periodicals, either for the public or for their own staff .

iv. Governments and non- and intergovernmental bodies, such as the U.S., the Brookings Institute, or the United Nations.

v. Web publishers, which may include anyone with access to a computer network.

d. How does the cited source “fit” into the body of this author’s work?

e. When was this written (is it current enough)? Why was it written (e.g., in response to a specific event)?


2. Are there other perspectives in the literature that disagree with this work? How might that affect your argument? Have you considered addressing/mediating counterclaims?

3. Will this source be treated as credible or persuasive by your readers?

a. Does the author come across as rational/logical or emotional?

b. Do the author’s intentions for the piece (e.g., to inform, explain, educate, advocate, persuade or dissuade, sell a product or service, or serve as a soapbox) align with how you are trying to use the source?

c. Is the way the author has mapped the issues (and intellectual terrain) similar in field and scope to the work you’re trying to do?

d. Does the author exhibit a particular bias? (e.g., commitment to a point of view, acknowledgement of bias, presentation of facts and arguments for only one side of a controversial issue?) Also, where on the continuum of views on this topic does the author fall, and how do you need to account for that when you incorporate the source?

e. Examine the references/bibliography: Does the information appear to be valid and well- researched? (i.e., reasonable assumptions and conclusions, arguments and conclusions supported by evidence, opposing points of view addressed, opinions not disguised as facts, cited sources authoritative?) P.S. these are the benchmarks for your work too!

4. What about the cited source’s argument?

a. Are questions raised but not answered?

b. Is it self-referential rather than based upon a public discourse?

c. Is the argument in the source you’re citing consistent with the point you’re trying to make, or are you exploiting the original source (cherry-picking)?

Evaluating Sources for Credibility


This video explains the importance of having credible information. This video will answer the following questions: What does it mean for a source to be credible? Why is it important to use these sources? How can you tell if a source is credible?


Periodicals by Audience

When selecting and evaluating sources, also consider the audience that the source is meant for. Each publication type is meant for a difference audience and will, therefore, present information in different ways.


Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323 • 315-859-4735 • Copyright © 2017 The Trustees of Hamilton College. All rights reserved.