Assessing the quality of a source

What is a source? A source is the person or organization that wrote or said the information that you are planning to use. “The Internet” isn’t a source, but the American Heart Association could be. “The library” isn’t a source but the New York Times is.

How can we decide whether or not a source is trustworthy enough to use in a research paper? Although there is no exact answer, we should ask several hard questions:

  1. What information are you using from this source? Your uncle who is an auto mechanic might be a very reliable source concerning maintaining a vehicle but not concerning what causes cancer.
  1. Does the source have an interest (financial or philosophical) that may make them overly biased?
  1. Is the source (the person or organization that owns or controls the content) clearly listed, including the physical location of the institution and the names of managing officers or board members?
  1. Does the source have a reputation for accuracy and honesty or a reputation for a lack of those qualities?
  1. Is the source published on paper?
  1. Does the source follow journalistic standards? Well known periodicals, for the most part, publish information only after the author has verified that information with two independent sources. Fact-checkers and editors help make sure this happens.

Let’s assume you were trying to gather information about whether or not salvia is safe to use. Consider the following four sources. Write four paragraphs (one paragraph about each source below) assessing the quality of each source. In each paragraph, list the three most important reasons you think the source is or isn’t acceptable based on the six questions above. Remember what makes a good paragraph. Start with a topic sentence for each paragraph and stick to it. (Your first paragraph will likely begin with, “The Salvia Center is a good source,” or “The Salvia Center is a poor source.”)

  1. OR
  1. New Cautions Over a Plant With a Buzz . By: RICHARD LEZIN JONES, New York Times, July 9, 2001. 
  1. OR