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CRIM20006 Punishment and Social Control: Evaluating your sources

This guide has been designed to support your research assignments and contains links to library resources relevant to criminology. It also includes examples of different resource types and information on how to evaluate them.

Criteria for evaluating sources

When you find a resource that looks relevant to your topic, you must use your critical skills to evaluate it is suitable to include in your essay. Just because it looks good on the surface doesn't guarantee that its content is scholarly or its author is reliable.

The key criteria that you should look at are:

  • relevance
  • reliability
  • authority
  • currency

It is critical that you consider these criteria when identifying sources to use as part of your research.

The sections below outline the key questions that you need to ask to ensure that your information is appropriate to use in a scholarly context.


  • Is the information / content relevant to my research topic?
    • Check the title page or abstract for a good idea about the scope of the source. Be aware that sometimes a source’s relevancy is not apparent until you have read all or most of the information.
  • Does it cover my topic at an appropriate depth? Is it too general or too specific / sophisticated for my needs?  
    • If the article is general, can its conclusions be applied to my own research?
    • If the article is specific, can its conclusions be generalized to my own subject?
  • Is it written for an appropriate audience?
  • Have I found more relevant sources? 


Authority is a key issue when establishing the quality of a source. Particularly when you're evaluating web sources, establishing who the author is and what their credentials are is critical.

  • Is it clear who the author is?
    • If so, who is it?
  • Is the author an individual or an organisation?
  • For an individual - what are their credentials?
    • Relevant university degree?
    • Institutional affiliation (where does he or she work?)
    • Relevant field or employment experience?
    • Past writings?
    • What is the author's reputation among his/her peers?
    • Have they been cited in articles, books or bibliographies.
    • How objective are they?
  • For an organisation - what is their reputation?
    • Is the organisation a reputable government / non-government agency? (e.g. the United Nations, Australian Bureau of Statistics etc)
    • Is the organisation known as being unbiased and objective?
    • What is the organisation's mission/ purpose? 


  • Is the argument supported by strong evidence & data?
  • Does the author provide reliable sources for the data?
  • Does it have an extensive, scholarly bibliography?
  • Is the source scholarly, or is it a more popular source? i.e. from an academic journal or a trade/general interest magazine?
  • Does the author provide a balanced point of view, discussing both sides of the argument? 


Currency is another key issue to consider when determining the suitability of information for your assignment. Being "current" or "up to date" will mean different things in different disciplines, depending on the rate of change in the particular area of research. It will also mean different things depending on the purpose of your assignment – e.g. are you analysing historical case studies or interviews or do you need the latest statistical data or research in a particular area?

  • When was it written / published?
    • Is it up to date?
    • Has the source been updated in another edition?
    • Have interpretations / attitudes changed since it was published?

Dates on web pages may indicate:

  • When the page was created
  • When the page was published on the web
  • When the page was last revised

Broken Links can also indicate a webpage is not being regularly updated.