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College Writing I Atkinson

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating sources is an extremely important skill.  With the variety of information to be found both in print and online, it can sometimes be difficult to separate quality information from poor information.  Tools and tips to help you evaluate sources are included below.  For more resources to aid in evaluating online resources, visit the "What Am I Looking At?" LibGuide.  

Types of Sources

Books: monographs (ex. book on a single topic) or collection of works (ex. chapters)

  • Typically a secondary source, summary or review

Periodicals: (ex. journals, popular magazines, newspapers)

  • Typically more current; original research articles with data are primary sources

Reference: (encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks)

  • Provides specific information like definitions

Government documents: (standards, reports, series)

  • Published by all levels of governments

Scholarly Vs. Non-scholarly Sources

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Sources

  • Author: Who is the author? An academic? A journalist? What are their credentials? Who is the editor?
  • Bibliography: Is there one? What kinds of sources are cited? Websites? News articles? Journals?
  • Publisher: Who is the publisher? A university? A professional organization? A major publisher like Wiley?
  • Peer review: Does the publication participate in the peer review process? Is there a board of professionals or experts reviewing content prior to publication?

The P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation Process

What is P.R.O.V.E.N.?

Proven is an acronym to help you evaluate the credibility of a piece of information, and can also help you determine whether the source is appropriate to the research you are doing. 

Purpose: How and why the source was created.
● Why does this information exist—to educate, inform, persuade, sell, entertain? Do the authors, publishers, or
sponsors state this purpose, or try to disguise it? Is the source deliberately trying to misinform?
● Why was this information published in this particular type of source (book, article, website, blog, etc.)?
● Who is the intended audience—the general public, students, experts?

Relevance: The value of the source for your needs.
● Is the type of source appropriate for how you plan to use it and for your assignment’s requirements?
● How useful is the information in this source, compared to other sources? Does it answer your question or support
your argument? Does it add something new and important to your knowledge of the topic?
● How detailed is the information? Is it too general or too specific? Is it too basic or too advanced?

Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information.
● Do the authors present the information thoroughly and professionally? Do they use strong, emotional, manipulative,
or offensive language?
● Do the authors, publishers, or sponsors have a particular political, ideological, cultural, or religious point of view? Do
they acknowledge this point of view, or try to disguise it?
● Does the source present fact or opinion? Is it biased? Does it offer multiple points of view and critique other
perspectives respectfully? Does it leave out, or make fun of, important facts or perspectives?

Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information.
● Do the authors support their information with factual evidence? Do they cite or link to other sources? Can you verify
the credibility of those sources? Can you find the original source of the information?
● What do experts say about the topic? Can you verify the information in other credible sources?
● Does the source contradict itself, include false statements, or misrepresent other sources?
● Are there errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar?

Expertise: The authority of the authors and the source.
● What makes the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the source authorities on the topic? Do they have related
education, or personal or professional experience? Are they affiliated with an educational institution or respected
organization? Is their expertise acknowledged by other authorities on the topic? Do they provide an important
alternative perspective? Do other sources cite this source?
● Has the source been reviewed by an editor or through peer review?
● Does the source provide contact information for the authors, publishers, and/or sponsors?

Newness: The age of the information.
● Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as science, technology, or current events), or could
information found in older sources still be useful and valid?
● When was the information in the source first published or posted? Are the references/links up to date?
● Are newer sources available that would add important information to your understanding of the topic