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Evaluate Information

This guide offers strategies and suggestions for evaluating the information we find while researching any topic, especially information found on the web.

Starting with Scholarly, Peer-reviewed Resources

Scholarly, Peer Reviewed Sources

My instructor told me to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles?  What does that mean?

Let's start with the "scholarly" part of that.

It can be a tough job to decide if information is accurate or authoritative, which is one reason why instructors and librarians often require or encourage you to look at scholarly sources.  By asking for "scholarly" resources, instructors want you to look for academic resources, rather than things geared toward the general public. 

Now, let's go over what's meant by "peer-reviewed."

In a nutshell, experts are looking at the work of other experts and saying whether the research and information is sound.  You can double-check this by looking at the editorial staff for a journal.  If the folks on the editorial staff are experts in the field that the journal covers, this is a good way to check that the journal is actually peer-reviewed.  You also want to look at the authors and see if they are experts in the field that the journal covers or have personal experience which lends them authority to speak on a topic in that field.

Watch this video describing scholarly journals and peer review:

Here are some tips to getting your hands on scholarly information:

  • Look for articles published in scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals.
  • Search for articles using the Library!
  • If you must use Google, use Google Scholar.
  • Look at cited reference lists and bibliographies found at the end of research articles and books.

Evaluation Questions

Tips and Tricks for Evaluating Resources

Every subject is a little different, and so how you evaluate sources for that subject differs.  There is no easy checklist or one-size-fits-all approach to see if a source is credible or reliable. There are, however, some basic guidelines that can get you started.  As with all information resources, the usefulness of the information may depend on the guidelines for an assignment or the ultimate goal of your research.  Here is a helpful acronym to provide a basic guideline, and then some specifics, complete with questions, follow.

Objectivity, Bias, or Point of View

What is the objective of the author writing this work?

  • Does the page display a particular bias or perspective? Is it clear and forthcoming about its view of the subject? Does it use inflammatory or provocative language?  Does the author maintain neutral language?
  • If there is bias, is it unconscious bias or conscious bias?
  • If there is conscious bias, is there a reason that the author demonstrates this inclination?
  • If the page contains advertising, are the ads clearly distinguishable from the content?
  • Is any conflict of interest discernable between content and advertising?
  • Is the author using rhetorical strategies to get you to "buy in" to the ideas they present?


Is this up to date?

  • Is it clear when the information was published and when was it last updated?
  • When was the research conducted?
  • Is this the most recent version?
  • For websites, are the pages current?
  • If there are links to other websites, are they current?
  • Are there more recent events that might color the information's findings?

(For some disciplines, you may wish to compare one iteration of an idea from the past with a new iteration in the present.  If that is the case, then the dates that you choose will vary.  In addition, you may be searching for primary source materials, and then you are not looking for current information but rather past information.  Remember, use these questions as guidelines, not as a one-size-fits-all approach.)


Are the sources I have found actually relevant to my topic?

  • What is the main topic or idea of the resource?
  • Will this resource be helpful in answering my research question?
  • Can this resource help me refine my topic?

(It is important to note that databases also have inherent bias toward Caucasian, male authors, so be aware of this when looking at search results.)


Who wrote this?

  • Is the author clearly identified? What are his or her credentials for writing on this topic?  In other words, is the author an expert in their field?
  • Can the author speak about a topic based on life experience, lending expertise in this manner? (This is especially important for primary sources.)
  • Is the author affiliated with an organization? If so, what is the reputation of that organization?
  • Is there a link back to the organization's page or some other way to contact the organization and/or verify its credibility? (e.g. address, phone number, e-mail address, “About” page, etc.)
  • For websites, who publishes and/or is responsible for the website itself? Who has registered the URL?  Does that organization have any blatant bias or agenda?


Do they give me proof?

  • Is the page part of an edited or peer-reviewed publication?
  • Does the content of the page convey the amount, depth, and significance of the evidence being presented?
  • Are the arguments persuasive?  How or in what way?
  • Can factual information be verified through footnotes or bibliographies to other credible sources?
  • Did you find this source using an internet search engine such as Google or Bing? They neither select the best pages nor filter out questionable ones, so you need to evaluate the choices carefully.  (Remember that people pay to have their sites show up early in Google's search results, so the early results are not necessarily going to be the best results for your topic.)
  • Based on what you already know about the subject (or have checked from other sources), does this information seem credible?
  • Are there obvious typos or misspelled words or other signs of sloppiness? (This often indicates amateur work, but it could be due to English not being an author's first language, so research the author.)


Why does this exist?

  • Are the purpose and objectives of the page clear?
  • Is the primary purpose to provide information? Is it to sell a product? Is it to make a political point? Is it to have fun? Is it to parody a person or organization or idea?
  • Is there a stated purpose, but then an actual purpose behind the information?


Who put this out there?

  • Where was this published?
  • How does the publication's authority affect the information's credibility?  (e.g. university press, political organization, etc.)
  • What is the URL?
    • .org - This is used for non-profits, and such organizations often have solid information based on data, but beware, just because a group is a non-profit does not mean that the information is reliable.  Non-profit is an IRS designation and is not a guarantee about the information presented.  So, it is still important to look for other sources that back up the claims being made.
    • .edu - This is used for higher educational institutions, such as colleges and universities.  You will often find reliable information from these sites, but beware, sometimes there are sites that contain student work that is NOT reliable.  Again, you always want to find other sources that back up the claims being made.
    • .com - This is used for commercial sites that are trying to sell you products or ideas.  These often do NOT have reliable information, so it is very important to find other reliable sources that back up any claims being made.
    • .gov - This is used by the government.  Many government sites contain reliable information, such as labor statistics, updated guidelines for the FDA, raw data that can be helpful with research, and a lot of other important information.  It is still important, however, to double-check the data, as typos or errors do sometimes occur (or occasionally unscrupulous individuals are providing content.)
  • .net - This was originally used as an Intranet designation within organizations who had their own internal systems, but it has come to be used by organizations that often do not fall into the other categories (e.g. K-12 school districts).  The designation is still a top-level domain designation like the others listed above.


Who is interested?

  • Is it geared to a particular audience, expertise, geographic region, period of time, or another factor/group?
  • Is it a comprehensive resource, or does it focus on a narrow range of information? Is it clear about this focus?
  • If it is an information database, are the dates of coverage clear and appropriate to your needs? Is it easy to search? Does it present information in a usable format?

Other Items to Consider:

Integrity of the Data

  • Is the source of any factual information clearly stated?
  • Are the source, scope, and date of any statistics clearly labeled?
  • Is it clear whether or not the information has been excerpted from a larger piece?
  • Is there a way to tell if this is the most recent version of a particular piece?
  • Does the author rely on photographic images to make a point? If so, be aware that digital images can be easily manipulated.

Adapted from Hammett, P. (1999). Teaching Tools for Evaluating World Wide Web Resources. Teaching Sociology, 27(1), 31-37.

Misinformation and Disinformation

Misinformation versus Disinformation


It's All about Intention!

This occurs when someone unintentionally presents information which is not factually correct as if it were correct.  This could be as simple as getting a date incorrect or as complex as presenting an herb as a cure for one illness when it is actually meant for another illness with a similar sounding name.  This is where spelling and grammar can be really important


This occurs when someone knowingly presents information which is factually false as if it is correct.  For example, someone accuses an entire schoolboard of taking bribes even though that person knows for a fact that no one on the schoolboard has taken bribes.  Not only is this slanderous, but it is also willful deceit.  Smear campaigns are often rife with disinformation.

The difference between these two lies in that one intended to deceive people, but the other did not.  Intention can be tricky to figure out, so you want to be a discerning reader.

Tricks and Tips

So, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there.  Just look at your social media accounts, and you probably will see some there.  So, what can you do?  Try some of the following:

Read Laterally

As you are reading, open a new tab (or two or three) on your computer and fact-check what you find.  Look for reliable sources.  If you find conflicting information, you may need to do a deep dive and find peer-reviewed, expert sources.

Look for the Source of an Image

When you are in your social media account, often you can right click on an image and "Search Image with Google Lens," or you can "Inspect" the image, which presents you with html and often the source URL.  You can use that source URL to track down the origin of the image and see if it has been altered in any way.

Beware of Deep Fakes

Technology has gotten really good when it comes to visuals.  Really pay attention to things like shadows, lighting, shapes that appear slightly off, objects that obscure part of an image, words that don't seem to match the movement of lips, and other small details.  Also, consider whether the image is showing something that is out of character for an individual, group, animal, etc.  In addition, looks for signs of cuts in the video and sound, as this can create misleading and inflammatory content.

Use Factcheckers

There are several factcheckers out there.  Here are two of the most popular once that you might try:

Beware of Misleading Charts and Graphs 

People tend to trust sources that have graphs and charts, but you actually need to evaluate those, too!  Just because a site or article has statistics, graphs, and charts does not mean that these are accurate.  Look carefully at the statistics and how the research was conducted.  Was the sample size small?  Was the sample heterogeneous or homogeneous?  Was there a high margin of error or standard deviation?  Consider what information the charts and graphs purport to be presenting.  Then, check the information!  Some sites use false graphs and charts as clickbait! 

Question Everything

Listen to your instincts!  If something seems off, it probably is.  Question what you read.  Fact check.  Look for multiple sources.  When so much information is available, it's important to be a discerning reading and thinker who doesn't take anything at face value.

Evaluating Wikipedia Articles

Other Guides about Evaluating Sources