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Seven Steps to Library Research: Evaluating Sources

Seven Steps to Library Research - A step-by-step guide to efficient research using your MSJC Library.

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating the authority, usefulness and reliability of the information you find is a crucial step in the process of academic research. The questions you ask about books, periodical articles, multimedia titles, or Websites are similar whether you're looking at a citation to the item, a physical item, or an electronic version on a computer.


The print books in your college libraries both circulating and reference have been carefully acquired to support quality research and to meet the academic needs of students and faculty. Remember to consider the content of any book from the recommendations below.


  • Why is the information being provided?
  • Are sources cited?
  • Are there references to other writings on this topic?
  • Are there charts, graphs, tables, and bibliographies included?
  • Is the information current enough for your purposes?


Determine if the article being evaluated comes from a newspaper, a magazineor or journal.  Determine how current an article needs to be in order to be useful.  Does the periodical provide any information about the author or authors of the article?  To what depth does the article address the subject being researched?  Does the article provide a bibliography? 

Newspapers are periodicals that usually:

  • Are published daily.
  • Feature short articles.
  • Articles deal with current events and controversies.
  • Provide no bibliography.
  • Provide little or no biographical information about the author(s) of the article.

Magazines are periodicals that usually:

  • Are published weekly or monthly.
  • Feature short articles with illustrations.
  • Articles deal with current topics as well as with some research.
  • Seldom provide a bibliography.
  • Provide little or no biographical information about the author(s) of the article.

Journals are periodicals that usually:

  • Are published monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually.
  • Feature long articles.
  • Articles are focused on research for professionals to use.
  • Articles include footnotes and/or bibliography.
  • Provide biographical information about the author(s) of the article.


Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Sites is a brief table of tips and questions to ask.

Evaluating Websites

World Wide Web

The web is a great information resource. Because there is so much information you can usually find some information on your topic, however, because anyone can put anything on the web, you need to be very careful when using the web as a research source.

You can use the following checklist to help you to determine the reliability of the information you find on a website:



  • Is the information reliable and correct?
  • Is there an editor who verifies the information?


  • Is there an author? What are his or her qualifications?
  • What is the sponsoring organization? Is it reputable?

Hint: Look for links providing information about the author and his or her e-mail address. Check for "about us," "philosophy," etc. for information about the organization.


  • Does the website show a bias?
  • Is there advertising on the page? 
  • What is the purpose of the site? To sell, to inform, to persuade?


  • Does the site include the dates it was created and updated?
  • How current are the links? Have any expired or moved?

Consider if currency is especially important for the research topic.


  • How does the site compare with other sites on this topic?
  • Is material covered in depth rather than superficially?

Reference Librarian