Evaluating sources for credibility: Which ones are right for your research?
Not all sources are created equal - especially when it comes to advanced research. Finding the right sources for your specific topic is crucial for writing a scholarly, trustworthy dissertation, term paper, or even a program note. Here are some ideas for questions to ask yourself as you're evaluating the sources you find and deciding whether or not to use them for your research:
How did I find it - Google? The Libraries catalog? A Libraries database? Remember: Just because I found something through google, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically credible or not credible - I just need to evaluate it!
Can I or can’t I trust the info I find in this source? What do I know about the author/publisher? Do I trust their authority on this topic?
Is it peer reviewed? If not, that’s okay! Even if it’s not peer reviewed, is it credible?
- What kind of useful keywords or ideas can I draw from it to inform additional searches for resources?
Remember: Evaluating sources early in the process can help to ensure that you're working with the best and most trustworthy information!
A quick overview of peer review: How do you know which sources to trust?
The most scholarly sources are those that are peer reviewed. This means that the source (like a book or a journal article – the concept of peer review doesn’t apply to recordings) has gone through a process of being reviewed by experts on the topic prior to its publication, and those experts provided comments to help the author improve the source. Ultimately, the experts gave the source their stamp of approval, so you know it’s trustworthy.
Several of the Libraries databases linked from this guide (like RILM, Music Index, and Music Periodicals Database) provide options in their Advanced Search screens to limit to “Scholarly” or “Peer-Reviewed” sources.
Remember: Not all sources are peer reviewed. For example, newspaper articles are only reviewed by the editor of the paper, and podcasts aren’t vetted by a panel of experts before they’re released. But just because a source isn’t peer reviewed, that doesn’t mean it’s bad! Just make sure you get a sense of the author’s credibility/authority before trusting the information it provides. Can you find the author’s bio? Do they cite other trustworthy sources in their bibliography? These factors may help to indicate whether the source is credible.