Yesterday we wrote about Wikipedia and why it's not usually considered a reliable source in college writing. The discussion raises the question, though, of just how a writer is supposed to evaluate what IS a reliable source.
In evaluating sources, you must be critical in discerning the credibility, reliability, and accuracy of any given source. Ask basic questions of a source:
1) What type of source is it (print, database, electronic media, etc.)?
2) Who is the author? What credentials does the author have? Where has the author been published? Is the author a scholar, a professor associated with a reputable institution, or a known and respected researcher or authority in the field?
3) Is the source current in the field or discipline? When was it published, and where?
4) Who is the intended audience?
5) Is the source primary or secondary?
6) Does it suit your particular writing project's needs? Will it lend support and credence (or be a useful alternate view) to your own project (essay, thesis, dissertation, freelance article, etc.)?
These are the questions that lead students and teachers to regarding online sources with caution. With the onslaught of electronic media and the Internet in particular, many people can now operate in ways that make them appear to be a pundit, an expert, or a scholar. Anyone can post online or put up his or her own website, and online material is especially mutable and ever changing. Careful evaluation of such sources is important.
A more extensive discussion of source evaluation and other writing issues can be found among the resource pages on our website.