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How to Evaluate Sources for Relevance and Reliability

When you will start searching for sources you might feel like every sources whether closely related or with a little relevance will be of help to you. This process yields so many sources and information that becomes difficult for you to analyze and decide which ones are better. Use only two criteria to decide what sources you have to keep and what you do not need in your research paper. The two criteria are relevance and reliability without relevance there is no use to add a source in your research and without reliability you will lose the reliability of your research paper.

Evaluate sources for relevance and reliability

Evaluate the relevance of sources

Evaluate the relevance of the sources systematically:

  • First select books that you think might contain sources that you want for your research paper
  • Then skim through the index on the end of the book or find the topics by yourself in the book wherever they are present. The index will provide you with the keywords so you can skim through it alphabetically and see whether there is a relevant topic there or not.
  • If the book does not provide the indexing of topics then you can search the book for relevant source by reading the introduction, other chapters that contain your topic and the final conclusion.
  • Once you know the pages where you can find the relevant source now you need to read the sources and critically decide whether they are relevant or not.
  • Relevance is something that you have to decide subjectively but in case you are not sure ask your teacher for advice on some source.

Evaluate the reliability of print sources

The print sources can include any one or more of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, scholarly articles, diaries, biographies, government records, agency records, and personal records. The printed material can be checked for its reliability by several ways. By reading a printed source you will be able to make a judgement whether it is reliable or not. There is more than just reading that you need to check before considering a printed source reliable and valid.

  • The author or the authors who have written that source can be one way to distinguish a reliable source from an unreliable source. A reputed scholar or author name means that this book or article is reliable enough to be used in your research. You can check the academic record of the scholar and what other books he has written. You can find information about any writer on the internet that will help you a lot in knowing whether the writer of this book, scholarly article etc is reliable or not.
  • Check the publication company that has printed and published the source. Publication company is also a good way to check the reliability of the source. Many reputed publication companies only publish books that are written by good authors and have reliability and validity. Scholastic, McMillan, University Presses, Norton, Ablex etc are some of the well known presses and there are several others that you can rely. University presses especially  publish books after peer review therefore they are highly reliable and valid to be used in your research paper.
  • When did the author wrote this book and when did it get publish? This is a very important question in determining the reliability of the source. A book that has been written within the previous 10 to 15 years might be considered reliable to be used in the research. Books do not get outdated as early as journal articles. Books are written with comprehensive and exhaustive research therefore a book that is 10 to 15 year old can still be considered reliable. It should be kept in mind that it also depends on the subject that you are finding sources in some subjects have more researches going on then others.
  • Be reasonably confident in using any source and check for the type of the source you are using for example books and peer reviewed journal articles are more reliable then the articles that are printed and published in magazines and newspapers. Magazines and newspapers mostly publish opinion-articles that have lesser reliability because that is just an opinion and opinion can be wrong.

Evaluate the reliability of online sources

The online sources are becoming more popular now a days because of availability of vast amount of material there. Students often get confused whether the online material they have searched and found is a reliable one and can they use it in their research or not. Consider the following points before deciding about the use of an online source in your research.

  • Some online sources are no doubt as reliable as printed sources like scholarly articles published in online journals. These articles are published after peer-review and have reliability and validity. Many journals like the Journal of American Psychological Association (APA), Journal of Material Science (JMS), Journal of Dentistry (JoD), Journal of Management (JoM), Mehtods of Information in Medicine (MIM) and many other journals only publish peer-reviewed reliable articles that can be used as a source in your research.
  • There are other articles on the internet that are written by public in many ways and there are also different types of articles among these ones. You have to know the source to be confident to use them for example some articles are published on university websites these websites have an edu extension and you can use these articles especially if the article is published on a well known university website.
  • Websites that have .com extensions should be critically checked fro their reliability before you decide to use their articles for use in your research. High academic researches never allow use of such articles as a source in your research. Ask your teacher whether you can use it in your research paper or not.
  • Some personal websites are reliable but most of them are not and in research you can use only those sources that have been declared after sound research it should not be just an opinion. Using any source that has no scientific base will make your research paper less scientific and unreliable.
  • Websites that have .gov extensions are also reliable but still less reliable then the journals and books. These sites are run by the government and in some fields they provide valuable sources for example if you are writing a research paper in economics, psychology, medical science, statistics etc. These sites provide good statistics about the population that you cannot get from other sources.
  • You can also find old books that you might not find in libraries and some websites provide online text of such books that can be valuable to you but again be confident about the reliability. Be confident that none of the text has been changed or edited in the online version of that book.


  • Turabian, L. k., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 8th Ed, 2007, pp-33-35
  • Evaluating Internet Resources, Retrieved on (2017, September 28), http://www.library.georgetown.edu/tutorials/research-guides/evaluating-internet-content



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