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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 an important step in the process of academic research. The questions you should be asking yourself about a source are similar whether you are using books, articles, multimedia content, or websites.


The books in your college libraries have been carefully selected 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?


Periodicals are sources like newspapers and magazines that are published at regular intervals. Determine if the article being evaluated comes from a newspaper, a magazine or a journal. Consider how current an article needs to be in order to be useful. Does the periodical provide any information about the author or authors of its articles? To what depth does the article address the subject being researched? Does the article provide a bibliography or references? 



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


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


  • Are usually published monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually.
  • Feature long articles on specific subjects.
  • Are focused on research for professionals and other experts in a specific field to use.
  • Include footnotes and/or bibliography.
  • Generally do not include photographs or a lot of advertising.
  • Provide biographical information about the author(s) of the article.

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?