Answered By: Cathy Timmer Last Updated: Dec 16, 2015 Views: 1785
There are several main criteria for determining whether a source is reliable or not.
1) Accuracy. Verify the information you already know against the information found in the source. Look also for disclaimers as to the accuracy of the content. You may also want to double-check the information against a source that you already know is trustworthy. Even though a source may use technical language, the content may be misleading.
2) Authority. Make sure the source is written by a trustworthy author and/or institution. If you are using a webpage, you can usually identify the owner/publisher by the URL, or check for a copyright statement near the bottom of the page. Make sure the author has the proper credentials on the subject matter. Also, determine if the source is biased. For example, if it is medical information from a drug company, that company will provide information in support of its product. Be aware of the objectivity of the author and his/her viewpoints.
3) Currency. Depending on your subject, your currency needs will vary. For topics related to recent breakthroughs in medicine and technology, you will need to find up-to-date sources. If, however, you are researching a historical topic, older resources may still be useful. For webpages, you can often find a copyright date near the bottom. Also, look for the words "revised" or "updated" to find the date of the website.
4) Coverage. You will also want to examine the content of the source and how it fits your information needs. Identify its relevancy to your topic and whether or not it addresses the subject matter. Also, make sure it provides enough information if you are looking for a source that discusses the matter in-depth. Additionally, determine if the site provides all the data you may need. For example, if you need to include graphs or charts in your paper, try to find a source that provides these.
To summarize, check who published the source, the purpose of the source, when it was created/updated, and its content. Also see if it has any potential bias and, if a webpage, provides references or reliable links to other sources.