Skip to Main Content

Source Evaluation: Evaluating Sources

This guide explains different types of sources and evaluation methods for research.

 With all of the information available at our fingertips, how do you know what to trust? Use these evaluation methods to check your sources for reliability--evaluating your sources is especially important for academic research.

The 6 W's

The 6W's ask you to consider a source of information and how it relates to your research and assignment.

Who is the author?

  • Identify any credentials the author has that make him/her an authority
  • If an individual author is not named, who is the editor or sponsor?
  • If the source is a web site, is there a link to a "home page" to see who is sponsoring the page?
  • Can you detect any conflict of interest or potential bias in this author?

What type of document is it?

  • Is it: Opinion, news article, review, report, research study, popular article, scholarly article, blog post, peer-reviewed article, statistical analysis, corporate document, government document?

When was the information published an/or updated?

  • What is the date of publication?
  • Is the topic time-sensitive so that you can only use the most updated information or is your topic more historical?
  • When in the Information Cycle was this published?

Where was the information published?

  • In a scholarly journal, newspaper, popular magazine, encyclopedia, book, website, corporate or commercial site?
  • Is the publisher a known and respected source of information?
  • If the source is a website, check the domain name for clues (.edu, .org, .com, .mil, .net, .gov)
    • Is there an "about" link from the homepage that outlines the purpose of the site? Are they trying to sell something?

Why was the information created?

  • Who is the intended audience? General audience, scholars, etc.
  • Is the author looking to inform, to persuade, to entertain, to share a point of view?
  • Was the author paid by a third-party that may be considered biased?

How was it written or produced?

  • How did the author gather data? Did the author:
    • gather data or information from credible outside sources;
    • incorporate in-text citations and a list of references or works cited;
    • present supporting pieces of data, sources, citations, quotes, personal experience, a reliable methodology.
    • If there's not an actual "works cited," are there any internal references to credible sources? Do these sources supplement the information given? Do the links work? 
  • Did the production of this information go through a vetting, editing, or peer review process?

SIFT Method

SIFT stands for:

  • Stop.
  • Investigate the source.
  • Find better or other sources.
  • Trace back to the original source to see quotes in their original context. 

The idea of SIFT comes from Mike Caulfield and is reused here under a Creative Commons license.

IMVAIN for News Sources

More information on fake news, media bias, and fact checking can be found on our News Know-How guide