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Evaluating Sources

Sources to Impress (or Appall) Your Instructors

Here is a ranking of some sources in order of generally accepted reliability. Remember that the type of source is only a general indicator of acceptability. The reputation of the author, the organization involved, and the publisher are all factors to consider. Also consider whether the author, etc., have any special reason to be biased in the presentation of the particular subject at hand.

                rating 4 happy faces              Scholarly Journals ="academic journals" or "peer-reviewed journals" These rank highest on the acceptability scale, because each article is written by experts and reviewed by a panel of experts from the same field before publication. Findings may still be controversial. Many of our databases have a check box that lets you limit your results to scholarly journals.

rating 3 happy faces

Government Reports & Statistics

In print or on the Internet. Generally considered a reliable source. Data may be collected and processed by persons with considerable expertise and academic credentials. A small number of government reports may be written with a strong bias for political purposes, but most attempt to be factual.
 rating 3 happy faces            Conference Proceedings The acceptability rating for conference proceedings will vary somewhat depending on the prestige of the organization that holds the conference, and the degree to which the papers given at the conference are reviewed or controlled. Scientific conferences where experts are presenting to other experts are generally a good choice.

rating 3 happy faces

Technical Reports

Technical reports may issue from a wide variety of sources, including government. They may be prepared by academic entities or by private consulting firms, sometimes under government contract. Technical reports state clearly the nature of the research or study and the methods used to collect and process the data.
rating 2 happy faces            Books Books are variable in reliability. Books put out by recognized and respected publishers have undergone at least some review. Books written for a scholarly audience are held to higher standards than those written for the general public, and may approach scholarly journals in acceptability. Books cannot be as up-to-date as the most recent periodicals.
rating 1 happy face            Magazines Articles in popular magazines such as Newsweek or Outdoor Life are written by reporters or free-lance writers and are examined by editors. In the widely recognized magazines, an attempt is usually made to insure accuracy, but these publications are less carefully screened than scholarly journals. Some popular periodicals, such as Sierra, are published by organizations with a distinct point of view.
rating 1 sad face            Newspapers Newspapers may be needed as a source for local issues, but be sure to check facts. While a few nationally-recognized newspapers (for example New York TimesWall Street Journal, and The Christian Science Monitor) have high standards and are equally acceptable with national news magazines, many local newspapers may contain inaccuracies and shoddy reporting.
                rating 2 sad faces            Commercial Web Sites Commercial web sites are business, not scholarship. Companies want to present information that will promote their business, and may further restrained from total truthtelling by other considerations, for example, the fear of lawsuits. Check any facts you find on commercial sites in more neutral sources.
                rating 2 sad faces            Advocacy Organization Sites or Brochures Advocacy organizations, by their nature, are trying to promote an opinion. Some are more scrupulous about facts than others, but at the least you should expect that the information presented has been chosen with a conscious bias. It is best to seek independent confirmation of the statements asserted there.
                rating 3 sad faces            Personal Web Site In general, personal web sites should not be used as sources for statements of fact.