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 Even if it’s not peer reviewed, is it credible?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!
2-minute intro to evaluating sources using the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose)
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, podcasts, newspaper articles, and several other types of sources commonly used in music research) 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) and the Libraries catalog provide options to limit to “Scholarly” or “Peer-Reviewed” sources.
Here's what this looks like in RILM:
Here's what this looks like in the Libraries catalog:
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 untrustworthy or that you shouldn't use it! 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. Also, be sure to check with your instructor about whether or not you have permission to use a source that's not peer reviewed for your project!
Now that you've found some sources, how can you know if they're right for your research?
Once you've gathered sources, how can you figure out if they'll be relevant to your research? Here are some tips for skimming sources:
- Check the table of contents: If your source is a book with individual chapters or sections, explore the table of contents and look at the titles of individual sections. Do the chapter/section titles seem relevant to the topic you're researching?
- Skim the index: If the item has an index (these most often found in books), skim the topics that are included in it. Do any of them align with your keywords or seem like they would be helpful for finding info about your thesis statement?
- Read the abstract: You'll often find abstracts, which provide an overview of the entire source's contents, included with journal articles (look for abstracts in article databases like RILM and in the records for individual items in the Libraries catalog). Does the abstract align with your research interests?
- Look at the introduction and conclusion: Your source's introduction and conclusion may be a single paragraph at the beginning and end, or these may each constitute an entire chapter. The introduction will tell you what the source is about, and the conclusion will summarize the author's findings. Is the information shared there relevant to your topic?
- Review topic sentences: Skim the topic sentences of paragraphs, sections, and/or chapters. Are they related to your area of interest?
- Explore the bibliography: Does the author cite a lot of reputable-looking sources in their bibliography? This can be a great way to evaluate a source for credibility and authority. TIP: Mining a bibliography of a helpful source can also be an excellent way to find relevant sources for your own research!