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Using Sources

Evaluating Sources

How do you know what sources to use for an assignment? What is a good source? Is there such a thing as a bad source? Can't I just use Wikipedia or Google? These are all valid questions and highlight some of the struggles students face when attempting to find and use sources for an assignment.

Finding good sources is an important skill to learn and one that you will develop as you work through your studies at Sheridan. Learning how to evaluate sources will not only help you pick the right sources for your assignment it is also a skill that you will find useful in your work and daily life.

Before choosing a website, ask yourself:

Choose sites that BEST match your assignment requirements, not just the first ones that appear on Google. Whether you need research studies or opinion pieces, your assignment requirements and research topic will guide your selection of sources. Consider the following:

  • What type of website is it? e.g. webpage, blog, wikis, social media Watch 'Selecting Resource Types: Websites'
  • Are unique details or original ideas, evidence, or arguments presented?
  • Is there enough detail, or is it too difficult to read?
  • Who is the intended audience? e.g. students/professors, or general public
  • What is the geographical scope? e.g. Canada, Europe or the world
  • What era or time period is discussed? e.g. current issue, historical, or future

Generally, avoid public wikis, like Wikipedia, since anyone can change the content without verification.

The author of a website may be a person, company, organization, or government agency. Their credentials, expertise, and reputation provide clues for determining the credibility of the content. Consider the following:

  • What do you know about the author? e.g. credentials
  • Does the author provide contact information?
  • Has the author written other publications on the topic to make them a subject expert?
  • Is the author sponsored or affiliated with a company, publisher, or organization?

Generally, avoid strongly biased authors that may present misinformation or omit key details.

Information on the web is usually written and published for a purpose. Think critically about why the author is sharing information online. Consider the following:

  • Is there an About link that clearly states the purpose of the website?
  • Is the purpose of the website to inform or to spread an agenda?
  • Does the website contain ads or pop-ups? Are they trying to make money?
  • Does the organization or author indicate there will be bias?
  • A domain suffix (or URL extension) can provide hints about the website's intention. Is the domain suffix personal, commercial (.com), governmental (.gov), organizational (.org.), or educational (.edu)?
  • Is the website a content farm?

Generally, avoid quick answer sites, like Ask.com, as responses are often simplistic and authors are difficult to ascertain.

Authors often build upon existing research or evidence, so linking or citing is important to pay attention to. Consider the following:

  • Are there any citations or a list of references to other sources?
  • Are there links to related sites?
  • Can the website text be found elsewhere? Copy/paste a few sentences into Google.

Currency provides insight on how recent the information was published or written. The importance of currency varies depending on assignment guidelines and academic disciplines. A website's design may provide hints whether the content is kept up-to-date. Consider the following:

  • Does the website show when it was last updated?
  • Is the information outdated, or is it missing recent events?
  • Are there multiple spelling or grammar errors?
  • Are links working?
  • Is the website easy to use and navigate? e.g. uncluttered
  • Are the images appropriate for your topic? e.g. diagrams, charts, photographs

Learn more about evaluating sources from the Evaluating Websites guide.