Evaluating sources

To improve the reliability of what you write, (dissertations, papers etc.) it is important to evaluate your sources for relevance and scientific quality. The reliability of your text is determind by the sources you use. Find information on this page about the methods, and the recources to help you evaluate your sources.

How do I determine how scientific my sources are?

When you want to know the scientific quality of your sources there are three kinds of checks you can do:

  1. A check by others, before publication
    • Editors: editorial boards of scientific journals are stricter than those of non-scientific journals.
    • Publishers: some publishers only publish scientific books.
    • Peer review: some journals and publishers ask peers to do a blind check before publication.
    • Search engine/bibliography: some search engines only add articles from high quality, peer reviewed journals to their database. (Scopus and Web of Science for example)
    • Funding: some journals are required to show who funded the research in their database. (for example articles about tests with new medicines)
  2. A check by others, after publication
    • Reviews (of books): What kind of reviews does the book get?
    • Citations (especially of articles): Is the article cited often (bearing in mind the date of publication) and what is being said about it?
  3. A check by yourself
    • Specification of the author and date of the text (especially with websites).
    • Affiliation of the author: knowing where the author works tells you something about how scientific the work is. (For example does the author work at a university?)
    • What is the target audience? (especially for websites and reports)
    • Are there explicit research queries and conclusions?
    • Is there an account of the method used?
    • Are there citations or footnotes?
    • What is the level of the language used.

How do I determine the relevance of my sources?

To find out if a source is relevant for your research try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the source help to answer my main or partial research query?
  2. Does the source answer the whole of my query or only one aspect of it?
  3. To what extent does the query of the source correspond with my own query?
  4. How strongly does the research object or the unit of analysis resemble that of my paper/thesis? The research object can be a period, a person, a group a geographic area, a process, an ilness etc...
  5. Is the context of the research in the source the same as in mine?
  6. When was the research published and when was the research performed?

Keep in mind that it is very rare to find a source which answers your whole query or even part of it.

Using non-scientific sources

When you use non-scientific sources (newspapers, blogs, websites, raports, etc.) pay attention to the following:

  1. Has the author or responsible organisation been named?
  2. Do you know the date of publication or when it was updated?
  3. the standard of the sources. 
    • pay attention to the language, the level of argumentation and the number of citations.

You can use non-scientific material as:

  • Research subject (How is something portrayed in popular media for example)
  • If no scientific material is available.
  • Primary source. (archive material, letters, interviews, statistics, newsitems)
  • Indication of social relevance.
  • illustration.

Read the LibGuide about the use of Wikipedia in Science.

More information about evaluatng sources