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GWS 236: Gender, Sexuality, and the Holocaust: Websites

Evaluating Sources

As you search, keep track of the most promising sources and then look at them closely, asking yourself these questions.

  • Is it relevant? Does this source help me accomplish my task?
  • Is it timely? Is it too dated? is it a primary source from the historical period I'm interested in?
  • Is it written for an appropriate audience? Has it repackaged information in a way that oversimplifies it? Will my reader expect more technical or scholarly information than this?
  • Is it authoritative? Are there clues that tell me why I (and my reader) should rely on this source? Who is the author and what are her/his credientials? (You might Google the author's name to fine some of this information.) Why does the author present this information, and does that purpose suggest a particular bias? Does it analyze dispassionately - or advocate for a particular stance? (Advocacy isn't bad - but you may have to see how others approach the issues.
  • Does it makes sense? Does the information hang together logically? Does it provide evidence for its claims that you find persuasive? 

When you aren't an expert, it may seem daunting to evaluate the work others have published, but a book's table of contents or an article's opening paragraphs will help establish relevance. The language it is written in will help you decide if it is scholarly enough and yet not too highly technical for your purposes. Information given about the author might help you decide how much an authority he or she is. For Web sources, follow links to information "about this site" or to an author's home page, or shorten the URL to everything up to the first slash to see what its parent page looks like. When in doubt, check with your instructor.

Compare: In addition to looking at the quality of individual sources, compare them so that you can see where there are differences and conflicts. Even if you are heading toward a particular conclusion, you want to discuss alternative perspectives so your reader gets the big picture.

Corroborate: If you feel as if you're going out on a limb, try to corroborate the information you want to use in another source. A reference librarian can help you do that.

Note, because there is such a wide variety of information from so many sources on the Web, it's extremely important to evaluate what you find using this criteria. Ironically, some of the Web sources that seem scholarly are quite out of date.  The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, is a copy of a reference work pubished in 1917. The library has the up-to-date 2002 edition in the reference collection, but had to pay rather a lot of money for it. The one that is free online is so old it's no longer under copyright.?Unfortunately, though convenient, it's only useful if you want information about the Catholic church in 1917. A few things have changed since the

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