Evaluating Your Sources

Just because you see it in print or on your computer screen, do not assume it is accurate or reliable!
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What is the source's purpose?
Is it to inform, to present opinions, to report research or to sell a product? For what audience is it intended-general public, children, scholarly?

Who is the author?
Are the author's qualifications, experience, and/or institutional affiliation given? What credentials or special knowledge does he/she have? Does the author have a certain bias?

Who is the publisher?
Is it published by an academic institution or a large commercial publisher? By a non-profit organisation or a business? The publisher may give clues as to the reliability and/or bias of the information presented. If it's a website, what does the URL tell you? See table below.

Why should I believe this information-what authority does it have?
Does it contain documented facts or personal opinion? Any footnotes, bibliographies, or lists of references that let you check the accuracy of statistics or factual information? Is the documentation from published sources, not personal webpages?

How timely is this information?
Are the statistics and facts cited in the source up to date? If this is a website, is there a "last updated" date shown?

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What can I tell from an Internet address?

An Internet address is also called a URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

Looking at the end of the URL will often tell you something about what kind of website you're visiting. It may provide a clue about how trustworthy or objective the information might be. See Table below.

Examples of sources that are often the most credible:
  • Official government websites
  • Institutional sites that represent universities, regulatory agencies, governing bodies, and respected organisations with specific expertise
  • Peer-reviewed journals
  • Reputable news sources
Examples of sources that are often considered less credible:
  • Blogs
  • Web forums
  • Individual or business websites
  • Materials published by an entity that may have an ulterior motive

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is not considered a credible source for academic purposes. This is mostly because anyone can edit the information at any time and post incorrect information. Also Wikipedia editors do not always correctly cite the source of the information posted.
Yes Wikipedia is a fair starting point to give you an overview of a topic but it is by no means an end point. You also need to research and reference credible and reliable sources that carefully cite their sources.

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