Skip to Main Content

5. Evaluate Your Sources

Evaluating your sources and spotting fake sites, fake news and media bias.

How to Evaluate Sources

EvaluateAs a college student you know that your job is to evaluate the sources you use for your papers, presentations and research. But how do you do it?

These steps are most appropriate for sources available from the library, but they can be tweaked for web and news sources. Get tips for spotting fake sites, fake news and media bias

1. What Does the Author Know About the Subject?

What are the author’s credentials?

Look for information like the author's education, experience, occupation, position, and other publications by the author to help you determine whether the author knows about their subject.

Where to find credentials for articles

Articles may or may not present credentials. Popular magazines usually just list the author's name, but sometimes even that is not listed. Articles in professional or scholarly journals may list credentials at the beginning or end of an article and usually include the name of the author and details that pertain to their expertise on the topic, such as education, occupation or college or university at which the author teaches on the subject. (see the chart below under 5. Review and Editing).


Where to find credentials for books

The credentials of the author of a book are frequently on the jacket, or at the beginning of a book.


Where to find credentials for websites

Websites, like articles, may or may not present credentials. A common place for Websites to list credentials is at the top or bottom of the page. You may have to go back to the home page of the site to see credentials. If credentials are not listed, that does not mean that the author has no expertise, but it does make it hard for you to evaluate whether he/she/they do and that means the sources may not be appropriate for college level research.


2. Does the Author Have an Agenda?

What is the likely bias (if any) of the author (individual or institution)?

The purpose of the author in presenting ideas, opinions, or research may in part determine the usefulness of the source. Does the source show political, cultural or other bias? Are opposing points of view represented? Is this information verified in other sources? You may not be able to evaluate the objectivity of any single resource until you have looked at all your resources. Even biased sources can sometimes be used, if you are aware of the bias.

Where to find in Books or Articles

The book jacket or back of book may have information that can help you determine bias; articles may have information at the beginning or end of the article. The credentials of the author may give you clues to bias.

Where to Find on Websites

On Websites, there may be an “about us,” or “about this site,” or “who we are” page that details what causes or ideas the site stands for. The Cato Institute states very clearly what their special interests are:


3. Where Did the Author Get the Information?

What sources did the author of your source use?

The amount and type of documentation used affects the value of your source and may help you verify the facts or conclusions presented. Documentation generally consists of bibliography, footnotes, credits, sources, or quotations. Resources that include documentation are considered more reliable and scholarly and are more suitable for college level research. Your instructors know that having documentation makes it easier to evaluate a work--that's why it's usually required on your research papers!

Where to find the documentation

Documentation is usually at the end of a book, article, or Web page.


4. When Was the Material Written?

The date of publication may determine the value of a source. 

If you are researching computer information, even a year old may be obsolete. If you are researching literature, resources that are 50 years old may still be valid. Frequently your instructor may restrict your resources to a given time period relative to the subject, such as no older then 5 years.

Where to find publication date for books or articles

Date of publication should be clearly listed at the front of a book or periodical.


Where to find publication date for websites

Websites may have this information, usually at the bottom of the page.


5. Was the material reviewed for publication?

When researching for college, keep in mind that scholarly journals and magazines are quite different. Scholarly journals have content that has been written by scholars or experts in their field. The most authoritative scholarly journals are peer reviewed. See the chart below for a comparison of scholarly journals to popular magazines.

Was the material reviewed, edited or fact checked for publication?

Reviewed or edited articles are more closely scrutinized for accuracy and value. Professional or scholarly journals have more reviewed and edited articles than popular magazines (see the chart below).

Where to find review/editing for articles or books

Check the front of the periodical or book for information on the editing, review and selection process for that periodical. Some databases such as Academic OneFile, Academic Search Complete and Research Library let you limit your search to scholarly or peer reviewed journals.

Where to find review/editing for websites

Websites may have this information at the beginning or end of a page or on the home page of the site, but are much less likely to have been reviewed. 

The chart below lists criteria that can be used to tell whether you have an article from a scholarly journal or from a popular magazine. Most of the criteria listed for scholarly journal articles can also be applied to books and open access sources to help determine their value. The more criteria your resource has listed under the Scholarly Journals column, the more likely it will be a good resource.

Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines

Lengthy, detailed articles Brief articles
References and sources listed References and sources seldom given
Graphs, charts, usually no photographs Photographs
Articles written by an expert, always signed (author's name listed) Articles usually written by staff or freelance writer, frequently unsigned (author's name not listed)
Credentials of author listed Credentials usually unlisted
Aimed at people in the field Aimed at general public
Few or no ads Lots of Ads
May be peer reviewed Not peer reviewed

Scholarly JournalExample Scholarly Journals:

Journal of Applied Psychology


Modern Fiction Studies


Popular MagazineExample Popular Magazines:


Reader's Digest