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Oral History

Source Evaluation

Evaluating sources is all about thinking critically not just about the credibility or trustworthiness of the source, but also considering its usefulness to your research need.

Consider this statement: There is no such thing as a good source or bad source. There are only sources that are good or bad for your research.

 

Use the 5W questions below to help you learn more about a source and decide whether/ how to use it in your research.

The very first question: How do you plan to use this source?

  • Do you plan to cite this source as reputable information?
  • Do you plan to critique this source as an example of bias about your topic?
  • Your use will determine what answers you hope to get from the following questions.

Who is the author of the source?

  • What are the author’s credentials, educational background, area of expertise, etc.?
  • Have other scholars cited this work?

What type of source is it? (Primary, secondary, journal article, website, etc.)

Where did you find this article?

  • Database, library catalog, open web?
  • Who is publishing/hosting the article?

Also, Where did the funding come from for this article to be written?

When was the source published?

  • Is the source too old or too new for your purposes?

Why was the source written?

  • Is the information in it fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Can you detect a bias?
     

Pull it all together: Using your answers to the above questions, do you still plan to use this source?

Source: Kirsten Hansen, "Do you trust this source?" Project CORA lesson plan.

Evaluation Frameworks

Types of Sources

All sources are not the same. Knowing what type of source you are looking at will determine how you might use the information in it.

Primary sources of information are first-hand accounts of an event, idea, experiment or other research study. They present original thinking or new information. Diaries, letters, photos etc. are primary sources.

Secondary sources provide analysis, interpretation, synthesis or evaluation of primary sources. They will often try to explain or describe primary sources. Biographies, books that interpret or analyze an event or idea, criticism of art or literature are examples of secondary sources.


Journal articles are typically scholarly in nature. They are written by experts in the discipline with others in the discipline as the primary audience. These articles contain a good number of references to other sources, and are typically "peer reviewed" by other experts to ensure their reliability and contribution to the discipline's knowledge.

Popular sources (news and magazines) can introduce you to a topic and how it is being discussed in society. These articles are written in an easy to understand language and don't often have a bibliography. Most of the time they are written by journalists and are only fact-checked by the publication's editorial staff.

Academic books/chapters are edited by an expert or group of experts. Books are often good for a thorough investigation of  the research or issues related to a topic.