Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 4: The Research Process

The Research Assignment

How to Evaluate Research Sources

Students today have access to so much information that they need to weigh the reliability of sources. Any resource—print, human, or electronic—used to support your research inquiry has to be evaluated for its credibility and reliability. In other words, you have to exercise some quality control over what you use. When you use the print and multimedia materials found in your college library, your evaluation task is not so complicated because librarians have already established the credibility and appropriateness of those materials for academic research. The marketplace forces publishers to be discriminating as well.

Data collected in interviews of persons whose reliability is not always clearly established should be carefully screened, especially if you present this material as expert opinion or as based on knowledge of your topic. And you may have even more difficulty establishing trustworthiness for electronic sources, especially Web and Internet sources.

Because the Internet and World Wide Web are easy to use and accessible, Web material is volatile—it changes, becomes outdated, or is deleted. Its lack of consistency and sometimes crude form make Web information suspect for people who use it for research. Because there is frequently no quality control over Web information, you must critically evaluate all the material you find there, text and graphics alike.

The following checklist, adapted from "Evaluating Internet Resources" (UMUC, 1998), can be used to evaluate any of your sources, but especially those of the Web. Ask yourself these questions about your sources. The greater number of questions answered yes, the more likely that the source is of high quality.

  1. Authority: Is the authority in this material clear and legitimate? Is the writer qualified?

  2. Accuracy: Can the factual information be verified by legitimate authority? Can one opinion be verified against another?

  3. Objectivity: Is the material objective and free from advertising, bias, and hidden agendas? Is the language impartial? Is the statistical evidence credible?

  4. Currency: Is the material updated frequently to ensure currency? Does the material reflect the most up-to-date research?

  5. Coverage: Is the material complete, partial, or out of context? If the material is out of context, is there a path to find the source? If the material is out of copyright, has it been updated to make it more current?