Evaluating a Source’s Credibility

Once you’ve completed brainstorming and determining the purpose of your research paper, it’s time to find sources to help back up your thesis. Locating credible, trustworthy sources is an incredibly important part of the research process. Researchers and scholars find, analyze, and use credible sources to demonstrate their ability to piece together a reliable research paper that provides evidence to support their claims.

As you searching for and gathering information, here are some items to look for to determine if a source is credible, or trustworthy:

Read the author’s bio and credentials

Search for information about the author on the Internet or read their credentials; these are sometimes found directly on the source. Are they considered an expert in their field? What other topics have they written about?  A big part of determining a source’s credibility is deciding if the author is knowledgeable about the topic. If you’re researching information about the American Revolution, it makes sense to trust information written by a published and noteworthy historian, rather than an individual who makes it a hobby to learn about historical events.

Determine if the publisher is trustworthy

Where did you find the source? Was it on an online resource, such as a website or database? If so, many online sources have an “About Us” section. Read the information about the publisher, specifically their mission and goals. Determine if the organization or company is a reliable source of information on the topic you’re researching.

If you’re using a print or online scholarly journal, then the information is most likely trustworthy. Scholarly journal articles are written by some of the top, leading professionals in a field. They are also often peer-reviewed, meaning that the articles were scrutinized and critiqued by other experts in the same area of study, and found to be credible.

Are citations, links, or references found in the source?

When authors include links, references, and citations in MLA, APA, or another citation style, it shows that they are able to backup their claims with evidence that you can access. It also shows that they are being responsible by not plagiarizing. Having these links, citations, and references are also beneficial to you, the researcher, as you’re able to find other sources that may relate to your own research topic.

Don’t forget to include citations, links, and references in your own research paper! In today’s digital world, there are may online tools that can help you with this. For example, EasyBib.com and Citation Machine are websites that help users build citations in many different styles, including MLA and APA. For more information on this, click here.

Is the source clear of grammatical and spelling errors?

When a source is riddled with inaccuracies, it shows that the author many not be knowledgeable on the topic they’re writing about, the piece probably wasn’t edited, or it may have been posted hastily. Only use sources that are free of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.

What is the author’s purpose?

Be wary of authors who are attempting to sell something. If the author writes extensively about purchasing a product or service, then their agenda is to make money off of you. Stay away from sources that attempt to coerce you into buying something.

Check the date that the information was published

In certain disciplines and fields, currency of information is incredibly important. Individuals in the fields of science, technology, and medicine all rely on new and up-to-date information. Publication dates state when the information was created and posted, which helps researchers decide if the information is reliable. If you are unable to locate the date the source was published, it is a sign that the information may be out-of-date and potentially untrustworthy.

See if the information can be found on another source

If you’re skeptical about the information and facts found on a source, search to see if you can find the same information elsewhere. If you’re unable to locate it on another source, there is a chance it may not be credible.

A responsible researcher locates, analyzes, and uses credible sources in their research papers, so use this list to help find trustworthy sources for your next research endeavor.

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