Primary or Secondary
Primary Sources: Literary works (poems,
short stories, novels, essays, plays);
documents, autobiographies; letters;
interviews; speeches; surveys; tables of
Secondary Sources: Comment on or
analysis of an original text; biographies
Credibility is not an issue
Bias, however, may need to be
Evaluation of these sources is
Credibility of authorship,
authenticity, accuracy, and
bias may be an issue
Your purpose: What will this source add to your research
project? Will it help support a major point, demonstrate you
have researched thoroughly, or help establish your own
credibility as a conscientious researcher?
Is It CRAP?
How recent is the information?
How recently has the website been updated?
Is it current enough for your topic?
What kind of information is included in the resource?
Is content of the resource primarily opinion? Is is balanced?
Does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?
Who is the creator or author?
What are the credentials?
Who is the published or sponsor?
Are they reputable?
What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
Are there advertisements on the website?
Purpose/Point of View
Is this fact or opinion?
the creator/author trying to sell you something?
Is it biased?
Relevance: Is the source relevant to your project, or are you
simply listing sources to meet a quota?
Level of specialization: General sources can be helpful when
you are beginning your research, but you may need more
specialized or more current resources. Ask yourself, “Who
was this source written for? A general audience? A more
specialized group?” How does this resource fit with your
audience and purpose.
Credentials of the publisher or sponsor:
What can you learn about the newspaper or
sponsor of the source? For example, is it a
newspaper known for integrity or is it a
tabloid? Is it a popular source, or is it
sponsored by a professional organization
or academic institution? Is the book
published by a company you recognize or
can locate easily on the web?
Credentials of the author: An author’s credentials often are
included on the back cover or flap covers of the book. When
researching, does the author’s name come up in other
sources? He may be influential in his field
Date of the publication: Recent publication
dates may be more useful in the sciences
or other fields where change is frequent
and current information is essential.
However, in the Humanities, the most
authoritative works may be the oldest.
Publications dates on the web are difficult
to assess, which explains why MLA
suggests recording the date you accessed
the information instead of a publication
Accuracy of the source: Can you locate other sources that
corroborate this source? In other words, can you find other
sources that have similar information or support parts of
what you find in this source?
Cross-references to the source: Is the source cited in other
works? If you see the source cited other places, notice what
another author says about the source. Another’s comments
may give you insight into the credibility.
Stance of the source: It’s important to
identify the source’s point of view (bias).
Would the author have a reason to slant the
information? Omit essential facts or
details? Identifying the source is the first
step toward evaluating whether the
source’s bias would be a concern. For
instance, would the source be trying to
convince you of an idea? Sell something?
Call you to action? Do any of those
purposes call the information in the source
What is bias?
According to Webster's Dictionary online:
Bias is defined as:
an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially: a
personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment: PREJUDICE
Looking for bias
Rush Limbaugh, Radio Talk Show Host
Example: Proclaimed right wing republican uses his talk
show to promote his party's platform beliefs
Looking for bias
In SELF-PROMOTERS Authors of books, websites, or
various written works promote their works for selfgratification.
Example: Toyota Today Magazine rating its Toyota cars as
the best in its class based on some specifications outlined
Looking for bias
In FINANCE: A individual or company creates website to
advertise a product or service.
Example: Receiving Tax Tips from a website designed and
maintained by H&R Block.
Looking for bias
From SPONSORS: An individual or company supports a
website with the intention of gaining exposure.
Example: Gaining interview and resume writing tips from a
website sponsored by Kelly and Manpower Temporary
Red Flags for
Anonymity – no author or sponsoring entity
Negative reviews by other sources
Misspelled words and poor grammar
Vague or sweeping generalizations
One-sided viewpoint that does not address an opposing side
Intemperate tone or language ("stupid jerks,"
"shrill cries of my extremist opponents")
Overclaims ("Thousands of children are
murdered every day in the United States.")
Sweeping statements of excessive
significance ("This is the most important
idea ever conceived!")
Conflict of Interest ("Welcome to the Old
Stogie Tobacco Company Home Page. To
read our report, 'Cigarettes Make You Live
Longer,' click here." or "The products our
competitors make are dangerous and bad for
Numbers or statistics presented without an identified source
Absence of source documentation when the discussion clearly
needs such documentation
You cannot find any other sources that present the same
information or acknowledge that the same information exists
(lack of corroboration)
Cues from URLs
edu = educational institution http://docsouth.unc.edu.
gov = US government site http://memory.loc.gov.
org = organization or association http://www.theaha.org.
com = commercial site http://www.historychannel.com.
museum = museum http://nc.history.museum.
net = personal or other site
Choosing a resource
Your topic is acid rain and its effect on automobile paint. Would
you be more likely to find relevant information in:
A brochure advertising Ford’s newest “Green” models
A National Geographic article on changing weather patterns
A study conducted by BMW on exterior paint for cars
ICAR research on automobile safety in hurricane force wind
The correct answer is C because it specifically refers to
automobile exterior paint.
• All of the other sources listed do not refer to automobile paint.
They may deal with rain – but nothing indicates they refer to
acid rain. Therefore,
For a research paper on the history of the
sport of lacrosse, which website will be
the most relevant and reliable?
A. www.lacrosse.com (home page of the
Great Atlantic Lacrosse Company, which
sells lacrosse equipment)
B. www.lacrosse.org (home page of US
Lacrosse, the governing body over men
and women’s lacrosse teams in the US)
C. www.lacrosseuniversity.com (website of
Lacrosse University in Bay St. Louis, MS)
D. www.warriorlacrosse.com (website of
manufacturer of lacrosse equipment
The correct answer is B. Option A and D both represent retail
companies who sell sporting equipment. Their websites would be
unlikely to have much information about the history of the sport.
Option C is a link to a university. Option B is a link to an organization
that oversees the development and rules of the sport, thus they would
be more likely to have information about the history of the sport.
Assess the source
Rank each of these websites from 1(low) to 4
(high) according to how reliable and
accurate you think they would be:
1. The most recent U.S. Department of
Labor statistics on unemployment
2. Twelfth-grader’s blog on the history of
3. Wikipedia article about a controversial
4. An editorial about Abraham Lincoln from
the New York Times, January 1862
Explain your reasons for
ranking each website to a
Did you and your partner
agree on the rankings?
Harris, Robert. “Evaluating Internet Sources.” Virtual Salt. June 15,
2007. January 12, 2010. http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm.
Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer: Fourth Edition. Boston:
Bedford- St. Martin’s Press, 2009. 170-171. Print