Answered By: Reference Librarians
Last Updated: Sep 07, 2020     Views: 289

How do I know whether to use a source (book, article, or website)?

To determine if you should use a particular source, ask the following questions about it:


  1. What is the purpose? Is it to inform, persuade, present opinions, report research, or sell a product?
  2. Can you tell what the purpose is? (The purpose should be clear from the title or introductory screens.)
  3. Does the source fulfill the purpose?
  4. Is it popular, scholarly, or trade?
    • If it's a popular source (like a magazine), it may:be unsigned
      1. be written by someone outside the field
      2. have no references
      3. be written for the general public
      4. contain advertisements
    • If it's a scholarly source (like a scholarly journal), it may:be signed
      1. be written by an expert
      2. provide the author's position and institution
      3. provide references
      4. be written for a small group of people with specific interests
      5. use specialized language
      6. be published by an association or scholarly press
    • If it's a trade publication, it may: be targeted to a specific field
      1. contain articles written by staff writers or experts in the field
      2. have a colorful format similar to popular magazines
      3. provide references
      4. contain numerous advertisements that appeal to people in that field
      5. include limited footnotes or references to other works
  5. Are any biases evident?


  • For all sources:
    1. What are the author's qualifications? (Many Internet sources do not give the identity or credentials of the author or producer. Sources that do not give this information have questionable reliability.)
    2. Can you contact the author?
    3. Can the information be verified elsewhere?
  • For Internet sites:
    1. Is the site maintained by a well-known association or governmental agency?
    2. What is the domain? (Many Internet sources are not reviewed before being posted; however, government, educational, and organizational sites often have some sort of review process. If no review process is stated or evident, you may assume there is none.)
      • .GOV = government
      • .COM = business
      • .ORG = organization
      • .EDU = educational affiliation
    3. How permanent does the site appear? Has it existed long?
    4. How many other sites reference this site?


  1. When was the information published?
  2. How current is the information?
  3. Is the date of publication important to the subject matter? (In fields such as medicine, science, business, and technology, currency of information is important. In fields such as history and literature, older materials may be just as valuable as newer ones.)


  1. What is the breadth of coverage?
  2. Does the page provide more or less information than you need?


  1. Does the author refer to other works?
  2. Does the source have a bibliography?


  1. Who is the source meant for? A layperson or a specialist in the field?
  2. Does it answer your question?


  1. Does the source have a clear, easy to read format?
  2. How easy is the source to use?
  3. Are there any special features, such as a bibliography, tables or charts?

If you want to learn more about evaluating articles, books, or websites for scholarly information check out the following videos.