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HIST 200: Evaluate Sources

Evaluate Information

Evaluating information is an important part of the research cycle. It is common to get a large number of search results. As you look at your results, consider the guidelines for your assignment. Use the filters to ensure you're finding appropriate resources. See the Find Sources page for more help with filtering.

As you refine the search results, you will generally review more articles or media sources than you will eventually use. How do you choose the best information from the sources for your research? What are the criteria to evaluate a selected source via the web or journal publications?

In scanning the contents of the results, the title, publication source, year, and abstract or description often provide key information to help you decide if the material would be helpful in addressing your research question.

The major elements that are applied to any type of source evaluation include currency, authority, credibility, purpose, objectivity, writing style, and relevance.

Research Skills & Tips:

There are different types of journal articles for various audiences and purposes:

  • Scholarly articles (also called peer-reviewed articles) are high-level research on a narrow topic written by experts in the discipline. 
  • Newspaper and magazine articles report on a specific event or topic. 

Scholarly articles are often long and technical. Not all journal articles are appropriate for academic assignments. Review the research skills and tips below to learn how to distinguish between scholarly journals and popular magazines and choose which articles to use for your project.

Research Skills & Tips:

Primary sources are frequently historical documents or images, and it is important to evaluate the content as well as the tool or resource you have used to access them.

Evaluate Your Access to the Primary Source:

  • If you found a diary entry, quote from a letter, image, or other primary source through a website, can you verify that the primary source has been attributed accurately? (That is, did the person who is supposed to have said or written something actually say that?)
  • Apply the strategies for evaluating a website to determine whether it seems reliable. For example, is the website you used to access the primary source published by an established museum, archive, or other institution?

Evaluate the Content of the Primary Source:

  • Do you know about other people, places and events from the same time as the primary source? If so, how does your knowledge help you better understand the content?
  • Who was the intended audience at the time the primary source was created? Was it meant to be public or private?
  • How might the difference between our modern values and those of the original author or creator influence the way you understand the primary source?
  • What presumptions and preconceptions do you (as a reader) bring to this content? For example, are there parts that you find objectionable, racist, sexist, but an audience of that time period might have found acceptable?

Research Skills & Tips:

Anyone can put information on the web and make it available online. The web contains everything from useful information to misleading information, advertisements, news, entertainment, advocacy, and even propaganda and fake information. 

How can you tell whether that information is credible and authoritative?

Qualities of Good Scholarship: clear, well-written, calm and objective tone, balanced and reasoned presentation, accurate presentation of facts, all sources are documented.

Qualities of Poor Scholarship: poor grammar or misspellings, sweeping generalizations, uses emotional appeals, excessive claims of certainty, biased information, no author affiliation or contact information, no documentation of sources.

Research Skills & Tips:

Step 3: Evaluate Sources

"Evaluate Sources." Stack of folders.

To ensure the quality of your research, think critically about whether the sources you selected are credible, reliable, and relevant for your research goal. 

Consider the evaluation tips on this page, and assess each article, book, website, or other source that you find.

When you're ready, move to the next step in the research cycle, Cite Sources.