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Evaluating Sources for Your School Essay


One of the most important part of researching your school paper topic, is making sure you are using good sources for your research. There is so much information available online that it can be overwhelming at first. However, if you follow these tips, you will learn to recognize authoritative sources quickly.

Student finding resources for research assignment

What is a Source?

Let’s start at the beginning here. First of all, you’ll need to understand exactly what makes a source. The answer is easy enough:

A source is the place you find the information to back up your research argument.

For example, say you’re writing a paper that answers the topic question “What are the types of human intelligence?”.  Your teacher wants you to find five sources to answer that question, so you go online and  start searching for the answer to this question.

How to Find Authoritative Sources

One way to identify authoritative sources is to look at the url of the website. If it ends in .edu .gov or .org, you can feel assured it’s an authoritative source.

Another way is to look at author and publisher credentials. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the author an expert in his/her field?

Is the source published by a well-known publisher such as Simon & Schuster?

Then take a look at the content itself. Look for these qualities:

  1. Unbiased
  2. Peer-reviewed

Other Ways to Evaluate Sources

Does your source have a bibliography or references listed?

Where did you find it?

  1. Scholarly databases
  2. Recommended by reference librarian
  3. From another authoritative source, such as a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article.

Another thing you need to check is the date of the source. If it’s more than a few years old, check to see if there are more recent findings on this subject. If you’re using a scholarly database, it’s easy to find this out.

Researching Your Sources

You won’t find all the sources you need the first time around, even if you’re just looking for five reliable sources. Researching is a process that requires time and effort, you’ll need to evaluate and refine your search a few times before you have good authoritative sources to back up your thesis.

  • Refine your keywords as you narrow your search results.

Don’t just Google the topic and pick the top listings; Google Scholar is a good place to start. Look for these types of sources:

  •             Books
  •             Journal Articles
  •            Magazine/Newspaper articles
  •            Reference Books

Note: reference books are secondary sources but are a good source to find authoritative primary sources.

As you conduct your search, evaluate your sources and remember to keep a document with the source information in a preliminary bibliography so that when you’re finished with your paper, you can easily create your works cited, reference list or bibliography.

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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