Evaluating Sources: What’s the difference between a good source and a GREAT one?

Evaluating Sources: What’s the difference between a good source and a GREAT one?

If you have ever seen the cartoon show, Popeye, you know he performs feats of strength—like punching a hole through a boat—whenever he eats a can of spinach.

Inspired by Popeye, kids watching started eating spinach regularly. And in fact, writers used spinach as a source of power because of a study published in 1870 by Doctor E. von Wolff which stated that spinach contained an extraordinary amount of iron. But in 1937, a follow-up study revealed that spinach had only one-tenth of the iron content of what Dr Wolff claimed.

What we’re trying to say here is before you decide to use a reference for your research, you need to evaluate it first. Luckily, in this case, there was no harm done—but that’s not always what happens. The importance of evaluating information sources is immeasurable.

Let’s dive into how to evaluate the credibility of your sources to ensure your research is flawless before it goes to peer review.

The 5 Criteria for Evaluating Sources

As you gather information for your research, you need to be confident that each reference you use is reliable. You need to ensure that all the info collected is from a credible source to guarantee that your study is up-to-date and high-quality.

Moreover, each of your reference materials should address the questions your paper seeks to answer. Accomplishing this will improve the overall standard of your paper, which, in turn, raises the chances of your research getting published.

So, how do you determine whether a source is reliable? Generally, there are 5 criteria for evaluating sources.

1. The Purpose and the Intended Audience

First, you need to understand the purpose of your reference. Was it used to inform, entertain, persuade, or sell a product? Determining the author’s motive can help you determine if the source is relevant to your research.

For instance, marketing material created to advocate using a certain brand of toothpaste—i.e. 9 out of 10 dentists approve the use of toothpaste xxx—wouldn’t be an appropriate source for a research paper. Additionally, you need to evaluate the target audience of your resource. A paper intended for scholars and researchers might contain more valuable data than another source whose audience is the general public.

By understanding the purpose and audience of your source, you can evaluate whether your reference is appropriate or not.

2. Author and Publisher

Not all authors are trustworthy. A source credited to an independent researcher might be less trustworthy than one affiliated with an organisation. Meaning, the credentials of an author of a source are a significant factor that determines its reliability. For example, a study on climate change made by a UN researcher will be more credible than a paper written and self-published by an undergraduate student.

Furthermore, the publisher’s identity is important in discerning the validity of a source. To illustrate, a paper about deforestation published in a science journal could be considered a more trustworthy resource than an editorial article about the same topic published in People magazine.

The authority of the writer and publisher is crucial when evaluating credibility.

3. Look for any Bias

Determine whether there’s an underlying agenda in a source. And keep in mind, this can be related to the purpose of a source. If the purpose of the reference is to sell a product, there’s a clear bias that promotes the use or advocates the product’s effectiveness.

To give you an idea, let’s examine how the US promoted milk as a necessary part of the diet. During World War 2, the US government contracted farmers to produce milk to send to their troops. After the war, the country ended up with a massive surplus of milk. To address this, the government worked with the dairy industry to advocate the daily consumption of milk by the general public.

To sum up, it’s essential to find if a source has an agenda behind it. If any biases are present in a reference, the information provided might be coloured with intent.

4. Date of Publication

Your study should be as up-to-date and accurate as possible. If the reference you are using has outdated data, such as a study published 30 years ago, that makes your work irrelevant. Unless your research needs information specific to a certain period in time or your topic is understudied, you should always aim to look for up-to-date information.

Take, for example, the data about eggs and cholesterol. In the past, it was believed that eggs, being high in cholesterol, were bad for health. But, after further research, it was discovered that the cholesterol in eggs was not enough to affect health. So, being a reliable source of protein, eggs are now considered part of a healthy diet.

To sum up, a source with the most updated information is better than one that’s old and potentially incorrect.

5. Consider the Context

You need to properly examine your resource and determine the entire context of the source. For instance, you should take note if you’re getting to the full picture of the data provided. Sources might be cherry-picking data only to show the positives while hiding the downsides.

This can be common in studies about the effectiveness of a drug. The research might show that it’s effective in eliminating the symptoms of the targeted disease. However, the study might be omitting data about the side effects observed while taking the drug.

Having an entire picture of relevant data is important for providing accurate data. If a source does not provide the full breadth of data, then it can be eliminated as a potential reference.

Remember the Acronym RADAR When Evaluating Internet Sources

RADAR is an acronym proposed by Jane Mandalios. The acronym is a great evaluating sources example because you get an easy-to-remember method of vetting references. The mnemonic, RADAR, stands for the following:

  • Relevance – Is this source providing relevant data to your research?
  • Authority – Is the author a person of authority? Do they have a background in the topic of their study?
  • Date – When was the source published? Does it provide updated data?
  • Appearance – Is the source presented professionally? Are there proper citations and references?
  • Reason for Writing – Why was this source published?

By remembering RADAR, you won’t forget the criteria needed to evaluate your references.

Improve Your Academic Paper with Flowcite

Writing is an arduous task that takes hours of your time. But before that you need to ensure you’ve got good and reputable sources to work from. Having to evaluate your reference is a hassling process that takes even more time. But, to have the best chance of getting your study published—you need to provide credible sources.

To ease the burden of writing and research work with Flowcite. With Flowcite’s Reference Manager, you have access to sources that have gone through thorough scrutiny. And after you’ve written your paper, you can even try our author services to make sure it’s ready for submission to even the most competitive journals.

Join Flowcite today to get access to our diverse library of resources!

Brittany Storniolo
Brittany Storniolo
Content Marketing Strategist

Content Marketing Strategist
Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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