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Conducting research is a significant part of writing a research paper or an article for publication. The internet provides a virtually endless amount of information — and nearly as much misinformation. When conducting research, how do you determine which sources are accurate and credible? This article will explain the importance of using credible sources, how to evaluate the credibility of a source, and which sources to avoid. We will also share a list of credible source examples so you have a solid starting point for your next writing project.

What Are Credible Sources?

Credible sources are reliable, reputable sources that provide factual and up-to-date information on a topic. The internet has grown exponentially over the years and information is readily available. However, the material you find online is not always accurate since anybody can put up a website. As the internet grows, the amount of unreliable information grows just as quickly. When conducting research, it’s critical that you are able to determine the credibility of your resources. Being able to determine the quality of the info you’re looking for will help make your research more streamlined and effective.

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The Importance of Using Credible Sources When Writing Papers and Articles

It is critical to use credible sources when writing white papers, blog posts, articles, or eBooks because your work is only as valid as the information you base it upon. Without accurate sources, your documents have no proof to stand on. Creating content and products without reliable sources will discredit your writing, diminish your influence and impact, and might even negate the whole article or product.

Publishing inaccurate data and information can harm your reputation and work as it diminishes the credibility of your finished material. It’s necessary for you to know how to find and use credible sources. Information literacy is a term used to define the skill of finding, evaluating, and using data, and it’s a key skill of this digital era. Information literacy refers to acquiring the following skills:

  • Understanding the information necessary for your research or project.
  • Knowing how to locate the resources and information you need.
  • Having the ability to assess the quality of your sources.
  • Knowing how to effectively evaluate and apply the information you find to complete your work.
  • Being able to accurately and properly list sources of where you acquired your data.

How To Determine if a Source Is Credible

Determining the credibility of a source is a critical thinking skill that you can learn and develop. There are several factors to analyze when determining credibility. Here are five strategies that will aid you in analyzing sources to determine their relevancy and accuracy.

Evaluate Sources Using the Information Timeline

The information timeline helps evaluate the relevance of information over time. It also helps you choose the best place to focus your research, depending upon the recency of the event or information you are researching. Information appears in publications according to a predictable timeline, as follows:

  • Day of event: Breaking news content is released on television and radio broadcasts. This is immediately available, but it may lack context and important background information. News websites and broadcast media such as CNN are considered credible sources; information on social media is not.
  • Days after: Newspapers start to show the event and provide more in-depth information about the event than breaking news sources. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are two national examples, but local newspapers will provide event coverage as well.
  • Weeks after: News magazines such as Time and Newsweek will provide coverage of the event. These often provide greater context and develop more of the background story of the occurrence than the early newscasts and newspaper articles. More time has been available for deeper research and investigation.
  • Months after the event: Professional or trade publications and scholarly journals will provide coverage of the event. These articles, written by and for experts, will likely have more bibliographic research and original analysis than earlier resources. They are also objective when published in scholarly journals.
  • One year after the event: Government reports and books will become available on the subject. Books will be helpful because they are usually very in-depth and contain more background details and analysis. Books will also include bibliographies that can lead you to other useful resources.
  • Multiple years after the event: Encyclopedias and specialized books on historically significant events become available. When using older sources, it’s important to ascertain that there hasn’t been later coverage that makes the previously published information obsolete. Ideally, seek sources published within the last 10 years unless you’re citing original sources.

Evaluate Based on the Type of Resource

Resources are classified into three distinct categories based on the proximity of the resource to the actual person, event, or information.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the original materials the topic is covering. These are direct evidence or coverage of the event and are the most authoritative information on your topic. These are original works and include the following types of objects:

  • Letters.
  • Photos.
  • Video recordings.
  • Diaries.
  • Works of art such as poems, novels, paintings, or films.
  • Physical objects.
  • Transcripts.
  • Interviews.
  • Articles published in academic journals.
  • Statistical data.
  • Empirical studies.
  • Government documents.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources refer to where an author describes, interprets, evaluates, or analyzes information or objects from primary sources. Secondary sources help expand and provide depth to your information so you can develop a more analytical article or paper. These are examples of secondary sources:

  • Books.
  • Biographies.
  • Reference materials, such as encyclopedias, textbooks, and dictionaries.
  • Articles, reviews, and essays.
  • Documentaries.
  • Descriptions or interpretations of artistic works.
  • Newspaper and magazine articles analyzing or interpreting primary sources.

Tertiary Sources

This refers to tools used to organize and help researchers find primary and secondary sources. When conducting research, these will help you locate resources to use for your project. Examples of tertiary sources are:

  • Abstracts: Short summaries of larger works (primary sources) such as journal articles or dissertations.
  • Indexes: Lists of resources providing bibliographic information such as author, the title of article or book, and publication information.
  • Databases: Online indexes listing primary and secondary sources.

The CRAAP Test 

The CRAAP Test, originated by Sarah Blakeslee at the Meriam Library of the California State University, Chico, is a tool used to gauge credibility. This acronym provides a process to help you easily and effectively determine the credibility of a source.

Currency

Currency refers to analyzing how current the material is based on its publication date. For instance, a web page that hasn’t been updated in several years is not considered current. The importance of currency varies with your topic. For instance, the most recent information is probably more critical in the disciplines of science and medicine than in humanities and the arts, where information may be slower to change. Here are some questions to analyze currency:

  • How recent is this information?
  • How current do you need your information to be, based on the topic?
  • Is this website still actively updated?

Relevance

Relevance refers to the applicability of the material to your audience. Here are some questions to help gauge relevance:

  • How relevant is the information provided to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience of this information?
  • Is the material at a level appropriate for your research and audience?
  • Why is this source the best source for your info? What other sources did you find?

Authority

Authority is the tool used to determine whether the creator of the information is credible and authentic or not. Questions to determine authority include the following:

  • Who is the author or publisher of this information?
  • What are their credentials and experience level on the topic?
  • Who are they publishing the information for? Who is their intended audience?
  • Is it published on a .gov or .edu domain?
  • Is there contact information to reach the author of the article?

Accuracy

Accuracy determines the validity of the information. Here are some queries to evaluate the accuracy of the material:

  • What is the proof or evidence of this data being true?
  • Are the sources of the original information provided?
  • Has it been peer-reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information with other sources?
  • Is the information unbiased?
  • Is the content free of errors, such as spelling or grammatical errors?

Purpose

The purpose of the information is important because analyzing the purpose of the original content can help you to analyze if there is a bias or spin on the material. Here are some good purpose questions:

  • What is the purpose or motive of the source you are using?
  • Would the source have a vested interest or agenda in the actions or beliefs stemming from the material?
  • Is the material designed to persuade, convince, sell, or entertain, or was it created to inform or teach?
  • Is the information factual or opinion-based?
  • Can the material be considered propaganda?
  • Is the point of view objective and impartial vs. biased or emotionally triggering?

Evaluating Validity of Web Domains for Research

The type of web domain can be an indicator of credibility and authority. You can consider government websites ending in .gov to be credible sources. University websites with the .edu extension are usually reliable as well. Check to verify credibility when you use other websites. Company websites ending in .com and special interest sites ending in .org may be valid resources for research, but take the time to evaluate the website and information. Apply the CRAAP test and critical analysis skills to ensure there is no bias or promotion of private agendas.

Ask a Librarian

Don’t overlook this valuable resource, although you’ll have to physically go to the library. A librarian can help you locate multiple sources quickly, especially if you’re having trouble finding appropriate sources for your topic. The librarian may make insightful suggestions or guide you to additional resources for your research. They can also help you determine the credibility of specific sources.

Sources To Avoid When Conducting Research

There are several types of sources to avoid for conducting research because of lack of credibility or authority. It’s important to be analytical and discerning when selecting your sources, using the information literacy tactics in this article. Here are some specific sources to avoid citing due to lack of reliability.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is not considered a credible source because any person online can edit a Wikipedia page. However, Wikipedia can be a great tool to use when you start your research because it will give you a broad overview of your topic. The site may also suggest helpful sources and references that can expand your research and lead you to credible sources.

General Websites and Blogs

General websites and blogs often lack accurate, verified information and authority. Company and private websites have a tendency to lean towards the interest or commercial gain of the organization. In contrast, websites with reputable sources contain information created by unbiased professional experts and explicitly references those experts and the original published material.

Social Media Sites

Social media sites will have a great deal of trending information on current topics. While these may be valuable to explore in order to understand popular opinion on various topics, social media sites are not considered valid for sourcing data or factual information.

Popular Magazines

Popular magazines such as People, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, and Vogue are published with the purpose of entertaining and promoting or selling products to their audiences. These are not considered reliable, unbiased sources because they have an underlying commercial profit motive and insufficient expertise levels.

Outdated or Obsolete Materials

Books can stay in publication for years. Check the book’s latest copyright date, since updated versions indicate that the publishers provide up-to-date information. Also remember original works such as poems, novels, or art are primary sources no matter their age. For sources such as newspapers, periodicals, and magazines, make sure these are current unless they are being used for historical data purposes. Currency is extremely important in rapidly evolving fields such as technology, science, and medical research.

List of Credible Sources and Websites for Conducting Online Research

These sources are generally considered valid based on authority, purpose, and accuracy. They are grouped by classification or type of resource, such as government organizations or scholarly journals. When conducting research on these sites, use your analytical abilities and cognitive thinking skills to evaluate their credibility. Generally speaking, government sites (.gov) and educational institutions (.edu) are considered the most reliable and authoritative online sources.

Academic Research Databases and Search Engines

Academic databases provide search access to large numbers of scholarly journals, reports, and other educational publications such as eBooks. Scholarly journals are an ideal source for researching information. These journals hold contributors to high standards and implement peer review to ensure accuracy. The term peer-reviewed indicates that other experts in the field have evaluated and verified the content prior to publication.

For additional validation, there is a publication known as the Journal Quality List which ranks the quality of academic publications and helps establish high standards for academic journals.

Most of these databases allow limited free access and others are accessible through educational institution accounts. If you aren’t a college student, many libraries offer access to these databases. Contact your local library to inquire about access.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a search engine and not considered a scholarly database. According to the Google Scholar website’s About page, it searches academic publishers and universities for journal articles, theses, books, and other resources. As it’s accessible from the comfort of home whether or not you’re a student, it’s an ideal tool for starting your research. If journal articles are available for free online, Google Scholar will provide the full text. If you find articles you want to use that aren’t freely available, you can then try to locate those articles in the scholarly databases.

DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals)

The DOAJ is a community-curated directory offering free access to journals across many disciplines including science, technology, arts, and humanities. It’s a substantial collection of resources, containing over 5 million open-access journals and articles.

Scopus

Scopus offers one of the largest database collections with over 70 million items indexed in a broad array of disciplines. An institutional subscription is necessary for full access to the Scopus database.

JSTOR

JSTOR is a digital library containing over 12 million academic journal articles, books, and other primary sources for research. The site is accessed by subscription through schools, universities, and libraries, but some open access content is freely available.

ProQuest

ProQuest is a comprehensive and respectable academic database. It provides exceptional abstracting and indexing and offers limited access through local libraries in areas including genealogy, news, and research databases.

Government Websites

USA.gov

USA.gov is the official web portal of the U.S. Government. This is a comprehensive website providing information on U.S. government services and topics such as:

  • U.S. factual information.
  • Government services and programs.
  • Consumer issues.
  • Education.
  • Housing.
  • Federal, state, and local government information.
  • Jobs and unemployment.
  • Money and taxes.
  • Health resources.
  • Laws and legal issues.
  • Disability information.
  • Small business resources.
  • Environment and energy.

UK.gov

UK.gov is the public sector information website of the U.K. Government. It features resources on government services and information on topics including:

  • Benefits.
  • Birth, death, and marriages.
  • Business and self-employment resources.
  • Citizenship.
  • Crime, justice, and the law.
  • Education.
  • Disability information.
  • Passports and travel.
  • Money and tax.
  • Housing and services.

U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau provides data about the American population and economy. The USCB provides information and statistics on topics such as employment, health, crime, housing, and other social and economic information.

Office for National Statistics

The Office for National Statistics is the United Kingdom’s census website. The ONS provides data and statistics on business, economy, employment and the labour market, and the population of England and Wales.

News Sites

The New York Times

With a worldwide readership, The New York Times provides impartial news coverage on a variety of topics including business, politics, and culture. Having won 130 Pulitzer Prizes, the publication is both highly respected and credible.

Wall Street Journal 

The Wall Street Journal is a leading news publication based in New York City that focuses primarily on business and financial information. The influential international newspaper contains information such as stock market activity and financial editorials.

BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation, with headquarters in London, is the world’s largest broadcast news organization producing a variety of content daily for an audience of millions. The BBC covers news, politics, and current affairs worldwide.

Reference Books — Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Directories

Encyclopedia Britannica

The Encyclopedia Britannica offers online subscription access to all volumes of its encyclopedia and other resources such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and world atlas. Access to newspapers and magazine articles is also included with membership.

Infoplease

Infoplease is a reference and educational site in one, giving users online access to an almanac, a dictionary, and an atlas. It also offers free access to over 57,00 articles from the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Other Books

Non-reference books, both fiction and non-fiction, can be valid sources for research. For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird” can be a source for an article on Harper Lee. When using books as sources, consider the information timeline and other credibility tactics such as the author’s credentials to determine the validity of the material.

Google Books

According to their website, Google Books is “the world’s most comprehensive index of full-text books.” Launched as Google Print in 2004, today the site has over 40 million titles available for access. Public domain books are available for download in their entirety, and in-print books with permissions granted have a preview of a certain number of pages of the book.

As you become comfortable with the critical thinking and analytical skills used in determining the credibility and accuracy of sources, you will find specific resources that work best for your personal research needs. Create a library of your favorites and add to it as you find other reliable sources and websites.

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