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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 7. Evaluating Sources

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Evaluation Criteria

It's very important to evaluate the materials you find to make sure they are appropriate for a research paper.  It's not enough that the information is relevant; it must also be credible.  You will want to find more than enough resources, so that you can pick and choose the best for your paper.   Here are some helpful criteria you can apply to the information you find:


  • When was the information published?
  • Is the source out-of-date for the topic? 
  • Are there new discoveries or important events since the publication date?


  • How is the information related to your argument? 
  • Is the information too advanced or too simple? 
  • Is the audience focus appropriate for a research paper? 
  • Are there better sources elsewhere?


  • Who is the author? 
  • What is the author's credential in the related field? 
  • Is the publisher well-known in the field? 
  • Did the information go through the peer-review process or some kind of fact-checking?


  • Can the information be verified? 
  • Are sources cited? 
  • Is the information factual or opinion based?
  • Is the information biased? 
  • Is the information free of grammatical or spelling errors?


  • What is the motive of providing the information: to inform? to sell? to persuade? to entertain?
  • Does the author or publisher make their intentions clear? Who is the intended audience?

Evaluating Web Sources

Most web pages are not fact-checked or anything like that, so it's especially important to evaluate information you find on the web.  Many articles on websites are fine for information, and many others are distorted or made up.  Check out our media evaluation guide for tips on evaluating what you see on social media, news sites, blogs, and so on.

This three-part video series, in which university students, historians, and pro fact-checkers go head-to-head in checking out online information, is also helpful.