Credible sources: what are they and how to identify them
A source is credible when it is trustworthy. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether 'credible' sources are trustworthy or not, as voicing an opinion or presenting false information as fact without any credentials or proof is easy for anyone, especially online.
Sources can often appear credible even when there is little evidence to support them - just think of the many pseudoscience-based articles that go viral on social media sites. Here are a few points to consider when evaluating sources for credibility:
Just because something is presented as a fact, it doesn't mean that it is. Question everything, books, articles, and websites can all be unreliable sources.
Examine the source's and author's credentials and affiliations
Always research the background of any resources you are considering using for your paper. Consider the author's credentials and affiliations during your search for sources, are they associated with a certain special interest group or another biased source of funding? Can the author/source be biased because of certain views and affiliations?
Evaluate what sources are cited by the author
Unless the author is analyzing their own data, their information came from somewhere. Beware if the author doesn't list academic sources. Always review the type of sources listed and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.
Make sure the source is up-to-date
Nowadays, due to the speed at which technology moves, information and reliable sites go out of date quickly. Make sure that your source is still relevant and applicable and comes from a trustworthy author.
Check the endorsements and reviews that the source received
You can read reviews of books printed or on the websites of online book retailers. You can find reviews of larger reputable websites. Some smaller sources, like journal articles, might not have reviews readily available, but you can check if the authors are authoritative sources in their field.
Check if the publisher of the source is reputable
Large publishers or reputable magazines and journals will thoroughly check the facts of the information they are distributing, which makes these sources pretty safe. This is especially true if the source in question comes from peer-reviewed journals or other scholarly databases.
Some of the other source-evaluation methods you can use include investigating the types of sources the author decided to use. Credible journal articles will have more source credibility than personal blogs, for example. This is because journal articles are created by academics that hold the proper credentials and have to make use of reputable sources in order to get through peer review.
Pieces that are public opinion or opinion pieces do not hold up to the same standard as academic writing. Even news articles can be biased sources; in the past few years, fake news has become widespread in online search engines. Major newspapers have fallen prey to this in recent years.
Make sure the source does not use loaded or vague terms to support itself
Beware of sources that use vague terms like "recent studies show", or "many people believe", without backing up these claims with citations. Online sources are notorious for this - remember that their ultimate goal is to maximize their readership and not to produce scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.
Also, beware of buzzwords playing on the readers' emotions. Many internet sources will use misleading titles in order to draw in readers, even if they are non-credible sources.
Beware of bias
Always evaluate if the source presents clear and unbiased information or if it aims at persuading you to take on a specific point of view. A source written from a specific point of view may still be credible, but it can limit the coverage of a topic to a particular side of a debate. It's always better to make use of sources that show both sides of the story.
Many academic papers have to give an overview of the other scholarly articles they used as citations.
If you want to find out more about credible sources and how to find and evaluate them, check out the following sources:
- How can I find credible sources?
- Is a blog a credible source?
- Is Wikipedia a credible source?
- BYU LibGuide: Evaluating Credibility
Frequently Asked Questions about finding credible sources
💡 What is a credible source?
A source is credible when it is trustworthy. The exact definition changes depending from the field of research. In general, a credible source is an unbiased reference backed up by real facts.
🌼 How do you know if a source is credible?
Here are some aspects to watch out for to determine if a source is credible or not:
- Examine the source's and author's credentials and affiliations
- Evaluate what sources are cited by the author
- Make sure the source is up-to-date
- Check the endorsements and reviews that the source received
- Check if the publisher of the source is reputable
🦋 How do you make sure a source is up-to-date?
Mostly in the humanities, arts, history, and literature, a source should not be older than 10 years to be considered up-to-date and credible. Any source older than 10 years should be avoided.
🏢 How do I know if the publisher of the source is reputable?
Usually, if the publisher is a large widely known magazine or journal, then it is a credible publisher. Examples of these publishers are Science Mag or Nature. These publishers thoroughly check the facts of the information they are distributing, which makes these sources pretty safe.
🌁 How to know if a source is biased?
When a source is biased, it aims at persuading you from a specific view. A source written from a specific point of view may still be credible, but it can limit the coverage of a topic to a particular side of a debate. Make sure to always evaluate if the source presents clear and unbiased information, or if it aims at persuading you to take on a specific point of view.