Scales with computers

Judging What You Find

Where do we look to answer these questions and find out if a source is appropriate and reliable? Here are a few tips.

Relevance The most important question to ask is: Will this source help me write a better paper? If the answer is No, then you don't need to go any further because the ultimate goal is that you have the best possible paper.
Authority & Reliability Most good sources will offer you information about the author's expertise in the field or inform you that the author is a freelance or staff writer. If there is no author information, search the internet or databases and try to find out the author's credentials. You can also take into account the authority of the publisher if no author is listed.
Accuracy & Validity Can you verify the facts presented with other sources? Do they tell you where they got their statistics and if so, can you find those same statistics from that source?
Objectivity All sources don't have to be objective; just be sure that if the author has a bias towards a particular point of view that you recognize it. This way, if you are trying to present both sides of an issue, you can find another opinion or source to balance out your paper.
Currency Currency doesn't always matter. Some topics benefit from a wide range of time periods, like historical research and literary criticism. Other topics depend upon the currency of the sources in order to be relevant, like current events and law. Finally, some disciplines require currency as a matter of course, like the health sciences.
Bibliography If there is a bibliography, you will not only be able to look at the author's sources and verify her information, but you are also probably looking at more scholarly work because the author did some research on the topic (notice we say probably, we make no guarantees!).
Purpose & Audience These two are linked together because often the purpose of a work is decided by the audience for whom it is written. Popular work is written to inform or entertain anyone who might be interested, while scholarly work seeks to further a field of study and is written for others in the field. In short, the scholarly guys tend to use more jargon without explaining it.