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History Seminar Research Paper Guide: Step 3: Evaluate Sources

Introduction

When doing research, it is important to find information that is reliable and appropriate for your assignment

Some assignments may require you to use certain types of sources such as primary or secondary sources, or specific types of periodicals such as scholarly journals. Other assignments may require you to limit the number sources you use. Often Internet sources fall into this category.

In all cases, you should always evaluate the information included in your assignments.  Use the R.O.A.D. criteria to guide your evaluation.

Evaluation R.O.A.D.

Relevancy/reliability

  • Does the site cover the information thoroughly AND correctly?
  • Can you understand what is being said?
  • What is unique about this site? Does it offer something other sites do not?
  • What is the purpose of this source? (is it to inform, to present opinions, to report research, to sell a product?)
  • For what audience is this source intended? (general, children, scholarly?) Is it a scholarly or popular source?
  • Are the links well chosen?
  • What is the top domain of this source and does it tell you anything?
  • Would you get better information from an encyclopedia or a book?
  • Would you use this site in a bibliography? (i.e. does it pass the "teacher" test?!)

Objectivity

  • Why was this site created? (to persuade, inform, explain, sell, parody, promote, other?) What is its purpose?
  • Is it a personal, commercial, government, or organization site? (i.e. what is the top domain?)
  • Is there any bias? Is only one side of the argument presented? Is there a hidden message? Is it trying to persuade you or change your opinion?
  • Can you distinguish facts from opinion?
  • Would you include this site in a bibliography? (i.e. does it pass the "teacher" test?!)

Authority

  • Who is responsible for this site?  Sponsor?
  • Does the author have credentials? ("Google" him/her using quotes around the name)
  • Does the author cite his/her own sources?  Are the sources documented appropriately?
  • What is the domain name?  Is it a personal page?
  • Is the domain name a meaningful clue in evaluating the site?
  • Who else links to the site? (perform a link check in Google by entering "link:webaddress" in the search box)  Do reliable sites link to it?  What do other sites say about this one?
  • Would you include this site in a bibliography? (i.e. does it pass the "teacher" test?!)

Date

  • Is it up to date?
  • Does it give a date the information was created?
  • Is there a publication date?  Or a date the site was revised?
  • Is the date meaningful to the type of material given?

What type of website is it?

By looking at the suffix of the website’s URL, you can tell what type of website it is:

  • .edu = educational institution like a university’s website
  • .gov = United States government website
  • .org = organizational website, typically for a non-profit organization but not always
  • .com & .net  = commercial website and most likely the least credible of the websites

Why Evaluate?

Knowing how to evaluate information will help you with research assignments and also with the bigger decisions you make in life.

Knowing how to find relevant, reliable, and accurate, can help you make informed decisions about things like graduate school, a new car purchase, financial aid options, daycare choices, and more.

Investigate the author

  1. Credentials
    What does the author know about the subject?
  2. Objectivity
    Does the author have an agenda?
  3. Documentation
    Where did the author get the information?
  4. Timeliness
    When was the material written?
  5. Review and Editing
    Has the material been reviewed for publication?