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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

The Research Process

Evaluating Sources

As a researcher, you need to perpetually evaluate sources to determine how or if you will use them. Here are some criteria and questions to consider as you review sources:

Relevance

  • How is this source a good fit for your project? Does it help you do what you want to do?

    • Does it offer relevant background information?

    • Does it provide you with evidence to analyze, or to support your claims?

    • Does its argument help you articulate your own claims?

    • Does it define key terms, methods, or frameworks you will use?

  • Does your research require that you use particular kinds of sources? (e.g., scholarly journal articles)

  • Can you justify why you would use this source, why it is important to your work?

Authority

  • Who is the author of this work, and what else have they written?

  • Have others cited their work? How have those authors characterized this author's work?

  • In what communities does this author hold expertise? How do these communities relate to your project?

  • What is the author's positionality?

    • Do they identify their gender, ethnic, racial, political, or sexual orientations, and address how these matter to their work?

    • Do they accrue authority from an institutional position? (e.g., as a college professor)

  • What kinds of evidence do they provide? Is this evidence sufficient to back up their claims?

  • How would you characterize the source's intended audience? What does authority or credibility look like for this audience?

Purpose

  • Why was this source created? (e.g., to inform, educate, entertain, persuade)

  • How does the author communicate their purpose?

  • What questions does the author ask and answer?

  • What might be at stake for the author in publishing this source? (e.g., for profit or public benefit)

Publication

  • Where was the source published? In a scholarly journal or by a university press? (This matters if you need to rely on academic sources.)

  • What was the editorial process?

    • Did it go through peer review (sometimes known as refereed)?

    • Was it edited by someone with expertise in the field?

    • Was it self-published?

  • What was the medium for publication? (e.g., blog, newspaper article, social media platform, zine)

    • What can the medium tell us about the audience, purpose, and scope of the source?

Relationships

  • Who does the author cite? Whose voices and perspectives are included in this source?

  • Are there voices and perspectives you want to include that are not here? Where would you find them?

  • Does the author affiliate themselves (through citation or direct mention) with schools of thought, intellectual or political projects, communities of practice, or social movements?

  • Who has cited this source in their work? How have they used it?

Date

  • When was the source published?

  • Does it reflect current thinking in the field(s) in which you're working?

  • Do you need to do additional research to fill in gaps since it was published? (e.g., look for updates to legislation or case law, or more contemporary statistics)


This content is informed by the Evaluating Resources guide from the University of California Berkeley Library.

Literature Reviews

When you conduct a literature review, you familiarize yourself with the scholarly literature related to your research topic or question, and present an overview of that literature to your readers. Your literature review demonstrates your awareness of the scholarship on your topic, and allows you to position your research question and your argument in relation to other scholars' work. 

These resources can help you through the literature review process:

 

Fact-Checking

If you want to evaluate a source for bias, misinformation, or misrepresentation, practice fact-checking.