All sources are not created equal. Especially in the age of the internet, there is so much readily accessible information that it is important for academic purposes to distinguish between the merits of different sources. You need to be able to identify trustworthy or credible sources.
A credible source is written by an author or authors who are experts in the field and whose conclusions are evidence-based and not motivated by profit or any interest other than scholarly pursuit. Recall that publication in a peer-reviewed journal is a marker of credibility; this is also true of books published by university presses like Harvard University Press or Stanford University Press.
A questionable source may not be credible. Wikipedia can be a great resource for students, but it is a great example of a questionable source because its content is user-generated. If a source is credible, its author is identified. The author’s credentials can be investigated if they are not provided somewhere in the source.
The development of the internet has exponentially increased the possibilities for self-publishing. The resulting proliferation of authors, vast numbers of whom have no discernible qualifications, requires diligent vetting.
In addition, in many cases, a source can be questionable if its information is out of date. Unless the historical context is relevant to your work, you want your sources to be recent; scholars build on each other’s work, so the relevant conversations in a particular field can evolve and change rapidly.
- Start with the author. Is the author identified? Are any biographical information or credentials supplied?
- How about the website—is it associated with any organization or institution?
- What are the letters at the end of the web address? Generally, .edu (education) and .gov (government) would be considered credible sources. A .com or .net ending can be purchased by any individual, so that doesn’t really help you determine credibility. Similarly, a .org ending indicates a non-profit organization, which might have a biased agenda.
- Does the article cite its own sources?
- Is the article properly edited or are there errors in spelling, grammar, etc.?
- Does the website look professionally made or a little amateurish? Are there advertisements on the website?