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SHB POL104: Evaluating sources

How do I know what sources to use?

Ask Who, Why, When, Where and What!

Essential questions

Every message has a reason and the job of the researcher is to select the information that is most appropriate for an academic or educational purpose.  The questions below will help you choose the best information for your research papers. 

Authority: the "WHO?"

  • What are the author's qualifications?
  • Does s/he cite sources?
  • Does s/he offer an opinionated or balanced perspective?
  • Does the information fit with what you know about your topic? 

Format: the "What?"

  • Is the source appropriate for the assignment?
    • What types of sources are required?
    • What types of sources are prohibited?
  • Does the source help answer your research question?

  Dates: the "WHEN?"

  •  When was the source originally published?
  •  When was the source last updated?
  •  If the source is a revised edition, can you tell how much of it was revised or was it just republished?

Published: the "Where?"

  • Is the publisher known for quality and/or scholarly publications? Is the journal peer-viewed?
  • Commercial, trade, institutional, other? What is the potential bias of the publisher?

Purpose: the "WHY?"

  • Can you determine why the source was written?
    •  Explain?
    •  Persuade?
    •  Inform?
    •  Entertain?
  • Who is the audience for this source?
  •  If the source is biased, can you find another source to balance the perspective?