Consider the timeliness of the information you encounter; when was it published or produced? If it’s an older source, is it outdated? Or, is it timeless? Find out whether the information has historical value.
Determine whether there have been important discoveries or developments related to the topic since the resource was created.
Check to see if and when the source itself was updated or revised. If you’re evaluating a website, test links to ensure they are still working.
Think about how well the source fits your needs. Does it answer your question? Does it provide information directly related to your topic?
Consider the uniqueness, depth and breadth of the information covered; does its treatment of the subject fit your needs?
Pay attention to the source’s intended audience. In other words, make sure it is neither too advanced nor too simple to suit your purpose.
If you’re writing a research paper, make sure you can use the resource to develop, emphasize, support or critique your ideas.
Question the source of the information. Who wrote, produced, funded or published it? Determine whether the author is an individual, group, non-profit organization, commercial enterprise or government office.
Is there enough information about the author—such as her education, experience, or professional affiliations—to gauge her subject expertise? Is the author, organization, or publisher respected by other experts in the field?
Is the content dynamic? If someone else views the same source later, might the content be altered? Consider issues of editorial control, including the review process involved before the resource is published or updates are posted.
For websites, think about whether the URL domain (.edu, .gov, .com, .org, etc.) indicates anything useful about the source.
Assess how reliable the information is. Is there sufficient evidence to back the author’s claims? Do the arguments or assertions stem from fact-based and logical analysis? Can the information be verified by other reputable sources? Make sure the author cited his sources so you can evaluate their merit.
Was the source peer-reviewed or refereed; that is, have reputable experts in the field formally approved the content or research methods? Consider the quality of the writing itself; punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors are red flags.
Look for examples of plagiarism, exaggeration, prejudice, or bias in the source. Does the author jump to conclusions too quickly? Does the author acknowledge and fairly assess alternate perspectives and possibilities? Watch out for simplistic yes/no and either/or thinking.
Determine why the information is presented. Was the source created to educate, inform, entertain, or persuade the audience? Consider how upfront the author is about her reasons for creating the source.
Look for evidence of commercial, political, religious, or other motivations. Check whether advertisements are clearly labeled. On a website, explore the "about" section to find information about the motivation and potential bias of the publisher.
Knowing how to find and evaluate relevant, reliable, and accurate information, will help you with research assignments and with making informed decisions about the bigger questions in life like graduate school, major purchases, career choices, financial decisions, and more . . .
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