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Critically evaluate what you find
Criteria to keep in mind when choosing and using both print and online sources:
- Accuracy - What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced? Does the author cite her/his sources and are they legitimate?
- Authority - Who wrote the source? Is the author credible? What are the author's credentials (educational background, past writing, experience) in this area? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note names that appear in many different sources. Who published the source? Is the publisher scholarly (university press, scholarly associations)? Commercial? Government agency? Self (“vanity”) press? For online information, check the domain of the document - what institution publishes this document?
- Objectivity - Does the author have a bias, political or commercial or persuasive?
- Currency - Is this information new or based on outdated sources? Can you tell how current it is? How up-to-date are the links (if any)?
- Audience - who is the information written for: a specific readership, level of expertise or age/grade level? Is the audience focus appropriate for a research paper?