Evaluating your sources: Have a strategy!

Essay and report writing represents a huge proportion of most people’s grades at University, so it’s important to know how to excel in this form of assessment. In order to gain the top marks, students must be able to critically analyse the sources they include in their assignments, but this takes time and practise. So, how do you determine which sources are appropriate and reliable? The My Learning Essentials online resource ‘Finding the good stuff: evaluating your sources’ sets out a handy strategy which we have included below. But you can check out the full resource for more details!

When evaluating a source always remember these six basic questions and use them to develop your own questions and analysis:

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In addition, consider the following three areas when attempting your analysis:

Reliability

  • How trustworthy is this evidence?
  • Has the information been verified or kept updated?
  • Consider the type of sources you are using (journal articles are high quality academic sources of information, and websites with domains such as .org, .gov, .edu are more reliable)
  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • A good way to check reliability is to see how many other people have cited that particular article or book; if a lot of other scholars are using it then you can be confident that it is a well-respected source

Objectivity

  • How neutral is the evidence?
  • In some cases, using a source with a particular perspective helps back up an argument, but make sure you’re aware of the bias
  • Newspapers may be biased due to their political allegiance, so this needs to be taken into consideration

Relevance

  • What is the content in the source and is it relevant to the essay title?
  • Is it recent? Depending on the research topic, it could be pointless to include sources that are 10 years old

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Following this method of source evaluation will help you to think critically about the sources you use and so, your discussion of the sources in your piece of writing will be more informed. A good researcher should always ask questions about the evidence they cite, so learning these skills early on in your University career is invaluable.

If you would like to explore this area further and develop your skills, then there are several other My Learning Essentials resources which can help you! For instance, this online resource  explores practical strategies for critical thinking, reading and writing. These strategies will not only help you to be more efficient when selecting what to read for your assignments, but they will allow you to develop your academic voice and style. Also, keep an eye on the workshops we deliver throughout the semester at the Library. Make sure you come to our “Critical reading” sessions to learn about the importance of reading purposefully, and book a place for “Successful searching” to explore some practical steps for refining your search results.

If you have any questions about this topic, then tweet us or leave a comment below! 🙂

By Megan from the Student Team

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