Evaluating source credibility
Evaluating the credibility of the sources you use is of key importance to ensure the credibility and reliability of your own research.
In order to evaluate the credibility of a source, there are five main considerations:
- Currency: Is the information up-to-date?
- Relevance: Is the information relevant and of a level appropriate for your research?
- Authority: Where is the information published and who is the author?
- Accuracy: Where does the information come from? Is it supported by evidence?
- Purpose: Why was this information published? What was the motive?
Together these considerations form the acronym CRAAP; a well-known method for evaluating sources.
For each type of source (website, journal, book, etc.) you can ask yourself different questions that fall within the five categories.
Evaluating the credibility of a website
Websites are the type of source most likely to lack credibility. Therefore, you should be particularly careful when deciding to use a website in your research.
Your sources should be written by unbiased, professional experts, not persons or publications with a commercial interest.
Example of an article with a commercial interest
- Who is the author or publisher?
- What are the motives for publishing the information? Do they want to teach or educate the audience, sell something, or convince the reader of a certain point of view?
- Was the source published or updated recently?
- What is the URL? .edu (educational institutions, including universities) and .gov (government institutions) are the most reliable.
- Are the links still working and what kinds of sources do they lead to?
- Is there contact information where you can reach the author/publisher?
Evaluating the credibility of a news article
Alongside websites, news articles are tricky as they can include biased information, be targeted to a specific audience or be poorly researched — but they can also be highly credible.
In the age of “fake news,” your evaluation of the source becomes especially important.
- Who published the article? Is it a reputable news source?
- Who is the author? Are they a credible journalist?
- Are you certain the article is unbiased and impartial? The article should be fact-based, with the author refraining from expressing their own opinion or favouring one side of the story.
- Does the article provide links to or evidence of credible primary source material?
- Thorough fact-checking has taken place
- Journalists are held to high standards
- The story is reported in an unbiased manner
- Corrections are made if necessary
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Evaluating the credibility of a book
Generally, books should be more reliable sources than websites. However, as with websites, it is important to consider who the author or publisher of a book is and what their motives for publishing the information could be, as commercial interest could still be a motivator.
- When was the book published? Could there be a more current book on the same topic?
- Are there other editions of the same book? If so, it would be a very credible source, as the author/publisher are clearly motivated to keep the information current.
- Who is the author? Are they an expert in the field? Search for their name and you can easily find this information.
- Was the book published by a well-known publishing house? If not, it may not have undergone a thorough fact-checking or editing process, and may therefore be unreliable.
- Is the purpose or intention of the book clear? Is it to inform and teach, or convince and persuade of a certain viewpoint?
Evaluating the credibility of a journal
In general, journals can be considered a credible source for academic writing. However, there are some influential academic journals that are more reliable than others.
- Who are the researchers? What are their affiliations?
- Is the article read and approved by other researchers? (peer reviewed or refereed)
- How many times has the journal article been cited?
Many academic search engines will provide helpful information, such as the number of times a work has been cited or author background.
On Google Scholar, you can see how many times each article or author has been cited, search for publications within a certain time frame, and view author background information such as a list of publications and co-authors.
Where to find journal articles
You can assess the quality of a journal by consulting the extensive and thorough Journal Quality List, which is regularly updated and free to download. You can also find journals you may not have checked on this list.
The ranking includes information from several years’ of the list’s history, with the most recent in the far right column. Be sure to read the legends at the beginning of the document to understand precisely what was considered when conducting each ranking.