One of the most important aspects of developing a research paper is finding credible sources. Sources provide the evidence that you will use to build—and defend—your thesis. With so much information available online, it’s more important than ever to determine that you’re using only credible sources. But how can you tell if a source is credible? In this blog post, we’ll walk through three questions you can ask yourself when assessing the credibility of a source.
Did I find my source in a credible location?
One of the best indicators of a credible source is the location where you found it. The most credible locations are libraries and archives; these should be your first stops when looking for sources. Not only will they have an abundance of sources, but there will also be trained staff on hand to help you assess their credibility.
Things get more complicated when you move online. Here are some tips for assessing the various types of online sources:
- Start by checking the websites for libraries and archives, such as the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, or National Archives. You might also check out digital exhibits hosted by college and university libraries. You can be sure that the sources you find in these locations will be credible because expert librarians and archivists have already vetted them.
- Academic databases are another great way to find sources. Talk to your librarian about which databases your school subscribes to. Resources like JSTOR and Project Muse are especially useful for tracking down relevant secondary sources; databases like ProQuest are great for finding newspaper and magazine articles.
- You can find credible sources when searching on Google and Wikipedia, but you have to be much more careful. Wikipedia is best used as a way to find sources rather than as a source of information itself. Each Wiki page has a footnotes section that you can use to locate scholarly articles and other sources. For Google searches, be mindful of the kind of website you end up clicking on. If it’s run by a government agency or university (with links ending in .gov or .edu), you’re probably looking at a credible source. If not, do some extra research to check the qualifications of the author and website.
Does the author of the source seem reliable?
Speaking of the author…another great way to assess the credibility of a source is to check the credibility of its author. What are the author’s qualifications? Where are they employed? Do they have a specialized degree or other experience that gives them authority to write on their topic?
Has anyone else cited my source?
A final question to ask yourself is whether anyone else has cited your source. Read a few articles on your topic. If your source is credible, it’s likely that someone with credibility (such as a professor, journalist, or archivist) has referenced it. Another great way to find credible sources is to check the footnotes of scholarly articles for secondary and primary sources relevant to your topic. Because a scholar has already cited these sources, they are likely credible.
With so much fake news circulating online today, it’s more important than ever to assess the credibility of your own sources. Ask yourself these three questions to figure out if your sources are credible. But if you’re still not sure, reach out to your teacher or librarian for help. It never hurts to get a second opinion when it comes to the credibility of your sources.