Research papers and many types of essays require solid research to back up your content and the positions you take on a particular issue. When you do not use credible sources for your research, it lowers the value of your work and your reader will not trust the information you give. To ensure the quality of your essay or research paper, know how to evaluate your sources to give authority and reliability to your content.
Using data, research and information from an expert gives credibility to your own work, so you need to first evaluate the author of your resource material. You can look for the author’s credentials to see if he has a degree, such as a doctorate, or extensive experience to qualify him as an expert in the field. You can see if he is published in peer-reviewed journals or if other sources cite his work. To find an online author's credentials, you can search the website's “About” page.
When evaluating the information in a potential reference, you need to determine if the author is objective. For example, he may have degrees and experience working in the pharmaceutical industry, but if he works for a particular drug manufacturer and says their drug works better than a similar drug from a competing company, he most likely has a biased opinion. To help you identify a source’s objectivity, Cornell University Library explains that a biased source may cover only one point of view on the subject, condemn other points of view or use emotionally charged language.
It is best to use the most current data available on the topic. For printed journals and books, you can find the date of publication on the copyright page or the title page of the text. Websites may list the date at the bottom of the page, at the end of the article. However, some websites do not include dates, so you may need to look for dates referenced within the article itself. For example, if the author discusses a study conducted in the 1980s, but does not mention any other study, this may indicate the author did not rely on current studies for his work.
A university press, government agency or professional organization is likely a scholarly, reputable source. Examples of scholarly sources include "JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association" and "American Economic Review," per Cornell University Library. These scholarly sources offer quality information, while popular magazines, for example, may not give you the most credible data. Although internet sources from colleges and professional organizations typically offer quality information, you need to make sure the page did not stem from a student paper or other non-expert source.
- George Mason University: Criteria to Evaluate the Credibility of WWW Resources
- University of Oregon: Critical Evaluation of Information Sources
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Is It Scholarly? Tips for Critically Evaluating Your Information Resources.
- Cornell University Library: Introduction to Research
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