The worth of a source cannot be judged using any single criteria. The importance of each criteria may also vary depending on the nature of your task. For instance, if you are studying the effects of World War II on European politics in the Cold War, then the currency of a source may not be as important to your study as the authority or relevance of it.
It's important to keep in mind that these criteria cannot be applied rigidly and in isolation of each other. They are also not exhaustive and you may find other criteria with which to evaluate a source. To ensure you are using the best sources for your work, you'll need look at them from a few different angles.
It's crucial that you choose authoritative sources when deciding what information to draw from and include in your research assignments and papers. The more authoritative your sources, the stronger you work will be.
When evaluating whether a source is right for your research, it's important to assess it's first know who wrote it and where it is published. This is referred to as evaluating it's authority. Asking some simple questions about the author is a good start. What are their credentials? Are they qualified to write on the topic? Do they have a university degree in that field? Is this information visible in the source?
Watch the short video below (4:29) to find out what to look for when evaluating the authority of a source.
An important factor to consider when selecting resources for your assignment or research is currency. Being ‘current’ or ‘up to date’ can mean different things in different disciplines. In a medical or science field, for example, results are gathered and published much more quickly than in historical research. The importance of currency to your own research will also depend on the nature of your research.
Below is a quick look at the kind of questions to ask when assessing a source for its currenct.
Check with your lecturer or supervisor how recent your assignment resources need to be. Many databases let you specify a date range when searching.
It's all well and good to find a source that is written by a authoritative author, contains reliable information and is up to date. But if it is not relevant to your own research then maybe it isn't the right source for you.
The relevancy of a source is usually not apparent until you have read all or most of the the information.
Your research is only as good as the sources that you draw from. Making sure the sources that you use contain reliable, verifiable information means that your reasoning and conclusions are backed up by sound evidence.
Sometimes it is hard to evaluate whether a source is reliable. A poorly researched source with little or no evidence can sometimes be overshadowed by the expression or enthusiaism of the author. So it's important to look closely at the arguments and information being presented and check to see if the author provides evidence to back up their claims.
Here's a handy, printable checklist (Microsoft Word document) that you can download to follow when you are evaluating your sources. The more boxes you can check, the higher it's academic quality and value to your research.
With regular practice using the criteria within it, evaluating sources for their suitability to your work will become more natural and part of you research.