Before you decide on using a document to support your research paper, it’s best to take a critical look at the information it contains.
Here are a few common assumptions that you should try to challenge before using a source in your work.
It’s published, so I can use it.
Not necessarily so. If it’s published by a legitimate publisher (as are the books and magazines in the library) or if it appears in one of the library’s databases, the information is most likely reliable. It still might not be a good source for you depending of its focus, publication date, or type (for example, your teacher might want you to use a scholarly journal and not a popular magazine).
Make sure to verify what kind of sources you need for your research before making a selection.
It came up on the first page of results when I searched the database.
Be careful. Many databases put their results in order by date, which means the first articles are often not the best, but the most recent. They may not be the ones that are best for your research.
Look at the top of the list to find the method of sorting – you can always change it to sort by relevancy.
I did a search on Google, and it was one of the first sites.
Google has a complicated method of determining which sites appear at the top of the results page. There are no humans involved in selecting these sites. You need to be very critical when determining the quality of a web document.
The next pages will show you how to:
- Decide whether the information is pertinent or relevant to your paper
- Determine the quality of information presented in the document
This section was in part inspired by the Web guide Evaluating Sources, produced by Mary Northrup at Maple Woods Library, Metropolitan Community College.