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The Research Process

Evaluate Your Results and Sources

Evaluate your Results and Sources: 
Use the P.R.O.V.E.N. SOURCE EVALUATION PROCESS to help you determine whether the sources you find are credible and appropriate choices for your particular research purpose. The process of evaluating a source includes examining the source itself and examining other sources by:

  1. Checking for previous work. Has someone already fact-checked this source?
  2. Finding the original source. Who originally published the information and why?
  3. Reading laterally. What do other people say about this publication and author?
  4. Circling back. How can you revise your original search to yield better results?
  5. Checking your own emotions. Is your own bias affecting your evaluation?1

The questions below will help you think critically during the source evaluation process:

  • PURPOSE: How and why the source was created. Why does this information exist, why is it in this form (book, article, website, etc.), and who is the intended audience? Is the purpose clear?
     
  • RELEVANCE: The value of the source for your needs. How useful is this source in answering your question, supporting your argument, or adding to your knowledge? Is the type and content of the source appropriate for your assignment?
     
  • OBJECTIVITY: The reasonableness and completeness of the information. How thorough and balanced is this source? Does it present fact or opinion? How well do its creators acknowledge their point of view, represent other points of view fully, and critique them professionally?
     
  • VERIFIABILITY: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information. How well do the creators of this source support their information with factual evidence, identify and cite their sources, and accurately represent information from other sources? Can you find the original source(s) of the information or verify facts in other sources? What do experts say about the topic?
  • EXPERTISE: The authority of the authors and the source. Who created this source and what education and/or professional or personal experience makes them authorities on the topic? How was the source reviewed before publication? Do other experts cite this source or otherwise acknowledge the authority of its creators?
  • NEWNESS: The age of the information. Does your topic require current information? How up-to-date is this source and the information within it? 

     1. Based on Caulfield, Mike. "Four Moves and a Habit." Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, 2017.

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation by Ellen Carey (6/18/18) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Types of Sources

  • Original materials that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony concerning a topic or event.
  • Primary sources can be contemporary sources created at the time when the event occurred (e.g., letters and newspaper articles) or later (such as, memoirs and oral history interviews).
  • Primary sources may be published or unpublished.  Unpublished sources are unique materials (e.g., family papers) often referred to as archives and manuscripts.
  • What constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. How the researcher uses the source generally determines whether it is a primary source or not.
  • Secondary sources, however, can be considered to be primary sources depending on the context of their use. For example, Ken Burns' documentary of the Civil War is a secondary source for Civil War researchers, but a primary source for those studying documentary filmmaking.
  • Books or articles that synthesize or distil primary and secondary sources, often in a convenient, easy-to-read form (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and textbooks).
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