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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?

Find 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.

  • 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).
  • Books
    The credentials of the author of a book are frequently on the jacket, or at the beginning of a book.
  • 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 Bias, Special Interests or an Agenda?

What is the likely bias of the author?
The purpose of the author (which may be an individual, organization or institution) 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 use?
The amount and type of documentation used affects the value of your source and may help you verify the facts or conclusions presented. 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! Documentation of sources includes: 

  • Bibliography
  • Sources Cited
  • References
  • Footnotes
  • Endnotes 
  • Credits
  • Quotations

Where to find the documentation
Documentation is usually at the end of a book, article, or Web page.

4. When Was the Source Published?

The date of publication can affect 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. So when your source was written can make a difference on how much value it can bring to your research, or even if it can be used. 

Frequently your instructor may restrict your resources to a given time period relative to the subject, such as no older then 5 years.

The publication info is also what you will need to use to make a citation for your source if you did not grab a citation from OneSearch for books or from our databases for articles, eBooks or streaming media. Websites generally make it a little harder to gather that info and cite, but Zoterobib can help you out there if the website has made that info available. 

  • Books
    Date of publication should be clearly listed at the front of a book or periodical.
  • Articles
    Date of publication should be clearly listed at the front of a book or periodical.
  • Websites
    Websites may have this information, usually at the bottom of the page.


5. Was the Source Evaluated, Edited or Reviewed for Publication?

Reviewed or edited articles are more closely scrutinized to help ensure accuracy and value. Books are submitted by authors to publishers who review them before they agree to publish the book. Professional or scholarly articles go through the most evaluation and tend to be the most accurate and credible. Websites vary, but many have no review, fact checking or editing, can be very inaccurate and are generally the least credible. 

  • Where to find in Books or Articles
    Check the front of the periodical or book for information on the editing, review and selection process for that periodical. Some databases such as Gale PowerSearch, OneSearch and OneFile, ProQuest PowerSearch let you limit your search to scholarly or peer reviewed journals.

  • Where to Find on 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. 

A Closer Look at Article Types

The chart below lists typical characteristics of magazine, news and scholarly articles. Each type of articles has it's strengths. 

Web Articles
Web articles are the most problematical kind of source for college research.

  • Web articles can range form scholarly publications (rare) to news, entertainment and opinion to fake or propaganda (common).
  • Most websites do not include credentials or list sources. This makes it very hard to use typical websites for college research papers. You should generally only use websites for college papers when your instructor tells you that they are fine to use. 
  • The more characteristics  that your source has listed under the Scholarly column of the Article Types chart, the more likely it will be a good resource.

For More on Evaluation, Try Checkology


Checkology has great interactive tutorials on topics like news media bias, misinformation, and conspiratorial thinking so that learners can develop the ability to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources and apply critical thinking skills to separate fact-based content from falsehoods.