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Summer Research: Reliable Sources

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Photo courtesy of Carlos Villarreal

What Are Reliable Sources?

Reliable Sources are generally scholarly sources. Most often, they are formally written by scholars or scientists, focus on theory or research, and include citations.  A scholarly article normally includes an abstract at the beginning, the name and issue of the journal in which it was published, the author’s credentials, and a list of references.  If you are searching in a database, consider limiting your search to only include academic journals and peer-reviewed articles.

Primary sources can also be reliable sources and include historical documents such as memoirs, works of art, or news articles from the historical period you are researching.  For more information about primary sources and where to find them, take a look at the Guide to Primary Sources.

Questions to Ask When Evaluating Sources

When evaluating sources, ask yourself these questions to help determine their reliability.

  1. Is it relevant? Will this source help you accomplish your task?
  2. Who wrote it? Do they have expertise?
  3. When was it written?  Does its age affect its value to your research? Is it too dated?
  4. Why was it written? To persuade, inform, or further our knowledge on new research?  Think about the intended audience.  Does the purpose suggest a particular bias?
  5. Where did they get their information?  Do they list their sources? Does the author provide evidence for their claims?
  6. How did they arrive at their conclusions? Is anything misunderstood or left out?
  7. What have other people said about this topic?  How does this source fit into the larger conversation on the topic? Compare your sources to identify any differences and conflicts between them.

Other Evaluation Tools

Here are four other methods for evaluating source material:
  1. California State University's CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Acuracy, and Purpose) test

  2. The Gustavus Library’s Guide to Fighting Fake News

  3. The Gustavus Library's Guide to How the Library Works

  4. Visit a librarian at the reference desk to help you evaluate the reliability of a source and to help you locate new sources

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