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Library Tutorials: Evaluating Sources

The MCC Library Tutorials are designed to help you learn how to properly use the MCC libraries and their resources.

Evaluating Sources

When you’re deciding what information to use for a class assignment, paper, or project, you need to ask some questions about the sources you’re considering using.
Any type of information, whether it’s found in a library database, in a book, or online, needs to be evaluated for appropriateness, currency, accuracy, and reliability.
Think about the purpose of the information. Why was the information created? Was it designed to educate people, persuade them, or sell them something? Who is the intended audience?
Is the material appropriate and relevant to your topic? Is it right for what the assignment requires? For example, you might not want to use an advanced 25 page medical article for an English paper and you wouldn’t want to use an article from Wikipedia or People magazine in a paper for your nursing class.
It’s important to consider the reliability of the author. Ask who the author is and what their credentials are. Do they have documented knowledge and experience with the topic they’re discussing or are they just sharing their personal opinion? Is the information backed up by evidence?
Look at the publication date. Is it important that the information was written recently? A book from the 1950’s might be fine if you’re writing about the life of Edgar Allen Poe, but if your topic is legalizing marijuana than you’ll need to find sources that were recently written in order to ensure that the information is still accurate. Check the date of any statistics that are being quoted.
Accuracy is critical. Is the information true and is it biased? If it is biased, does that matter? You might want to include information from the NRA website on a paper about gun control, but you need to be aware that they have a specific viewpoint on the issue. The other side has their own viewpoint.
Be selective when doing Google searches. Just because a website is the first result, that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Many times, the first results will be paid advertisements
Look for an “about us” section on a website to see who the sponsoring organization is. Look at publication dates, verify information elsewhere, and use common sense.
A library database is a great place to find more impartial and reliable information. Databases contain articles that are written by professionals and scholars in many fields.
If you have any questions, stop by the reference desk or contact a librarian. We’ll be happy to help.
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