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Political Science: 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:

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:

Statistics require interpretation to make an argument. It is not uncommon that statistical information is manipulated for a biased claim. Evaluation is important before using them for research purposes.

Criteria for Evaluating Statistics:  

  • Accuracy - Is it from a primary source? If it is from a secondary source, is it well documented for audience to verify its origin and examine how it has been processed?   
  • Authority - Who collected and published it? What are their credentials? Is it published at a government, research or commercial site?
  • Coverage - What populations are included? If it's a survey, poll or focus group study, what is the sample size and selection methods?  
  • Currency - When were the data collected? Is the information supposed to be current or historical for analysis? 
  • Objectivity - Is it presented objectively with facts or subjectively with opinions?
  • Purpose - Why were the data collected? Is it for education, research, policymaking or promotion of a product and service? Who are its targeted audience?

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.