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Library Research Basics: Evaluating Sources

Tips on how to find books and articles in the library and on how to research and write a paper.

Why Use a Database?

Why use a database rather than Google? A database is more likely to provide you with relevant information of a scholarly nature that is appropriate to college-level research projects.

Databases ...

  • generally contain high-quality information
  • contain peer-reviewed articles
  • contain articles by known authors
  • contain scholarly information
  • are subject-specific
  • support refined searching

The free Web ...

  • offers free access (you get what you pay for!)
  • is not quality controlled
  • is rarely peer-reviewed
  • doesn't always list authors' names
  • contains mostly popular (non-specialized) information
  • has limited search capabilities

Google Tips

Google logo

Most of us love to search Google because it's fast, free, and easy, but one common complaint is that the number of search results is overwhelming. Try these tips to limit your searches.

  • For more precise searches enter allintitle: before your search terms.
  • To limit to a particular domain, enter site: before the domain, e.g. or
  • Use Google's Advanced Search and learn more on their Help page.

How to Evaluate a Source

The following is a list of fact checking strategies developed by Michael Caufidield. The SIFT METHOD (STOP, INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE, FIND BETTER COVERAGE, TRACE CLAIMS) is designed to help you determine if the sources you found are accurate and reliable.  Keep in mind that the following list is not static or complete. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.

  • When you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—stop. Ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website. If you don’t, use the other fact-checking moves that follow, to get a better sense of what you’re looking at. In other words, don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable.
Investigate the Source
  • Investigating the source means knowing what you're reading before you start reading. In other words take a couple of minutes to do a quick search for the author and publisher of the source you're reading. Knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is necessary when it comes to understanding and evaluating a source. 
Find Better Coverage
  • Sometimes the claim or the information in the source is more important to you than the actual source itself. If you find your self in this predicament find better coverage. You have the tools at your disposal to be able to find a source that better suits your needs, and in some cases more reliable! 
Trace Claims, Quotes, and Ideas back to the Original Source 
  • Sometimes sources can be missing context, or maybe you are doubtful of the claims the source is making. When you find yourself in this situation, Trace the claims, quotes, or ideas back to the original source. This way you will be able to understand the context and verify any quotes or interpretation of ideas. 

Adapted from The SIFT Method by Mike Caulfield, Washington State University.

More Resources

Because anyone can post anything on the Web and there is no quality control, it is important to evaluate any website you may use in your research. The following sites can help you evaluate the accuracy, reliability, and currency of information in general, and Internet sources in particular.

Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask, from UC Berkeley.

Evaluating Sources, both print and Internet, from the Purdue OWL.

Internet Research: What’s Credible? Films on Demand


Should you use Wikipedia?
Hear what Stephen Colbert has to say.