Evaluating sources

To improve the reliability of your academic output (dissertations, papers etc.) it is important to evaluate your sources on relevance and scientific quality.  On this page you will find information about methods and resources in relation to evaluating sources.

Determining the scientific nature of sources

If you want to determine the scientific quality of your sources, have a look at the following checks:

  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 and journals.
    • 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 require mentioning the names of the research funders (for example in the case of 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 done by you
    • Specification of the author and date of the text (especially in the case of websites).
    • Affiliation of the author: knowing where the author works tells you something about the scholarly qualities of the work (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 citations or footnotes present?
    • What is the level of the language used?

Determining the relevance of sources

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

  • Does the source help you to answer your main questions and sub-questions?
  • Does the source answer your whole question/sub-question or only one aspect?
  • To what extent does the main question of the source you found match with your own questions?
  • How strong are the similarities between the research object or the analysis unit in the piece you found and those in your own paper/thesis? The research object may be a period, or a person, a group, an area, a substance, a disease, a proces etc.
  • Is the context of the research object the same as in your case?
  • When was the piece published and when was the research in question carried out?

Think that you will rarely find a source that provides a complete answer to your main questions and sub-questions or that reports on the exact same research or problem you are working on. 

Using non-scientific sources

When you use non-scientific sources (newspapers, blogs, websites, reports, 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).
  • Primary source. (archive material, letters, interviews, statistics, newsitems)
  • Indication of social relevance.
  • llustration of your point

Read the the LibGuide about the use of Wikipedia in Science.

More information about evaluating sources