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Evaluating Sources

This Library Research Guide will provide you with information that you can use to critically evaluate sources including websites, articles and reports, books and ebooks, etc.

Why Do We Evaluate?

Evaluating sources before you use them in a paper, project or even in every day life for your work or for your own information is very important. Understanding who created the information, why, if it is biased or if you can trust it is vital whenever you need information. The same is true when researching for school, work or even buying a car. Teaching your brain how to think critically about information is a skill that you will need forever. Read on to learn more!

What is a Peer Reviewed Journal?

Peer reviewed journals (also sometimes called refereed journals) include only articles that have gone through a process of feedback and iteration before publication. In short, this means that:

  1. The article was written by an expert or scholar in the field or on the topic.
  2. The article was reviewed by other experts or scholars in the field or on the topic who assess the article for accuracy and other indicators of scholarship before providing feedback to the author.
  3. The author made any necessary edits or changes to the article based on the feedback provided before the article was published.

Keep in mind that articles from peer reviewed journals are considered scholarly, but not all scholarly articles are from peer reviewed journals (in other words, just because an article was not published in a peer reviewed journal, doesn't automatically mean it isn't considered a scholarly source). For more information, check out these FAQs:

What are Scholarly Sources?

Scholarly sources are written by experts in a particular field that appeal to other scholars/experts/interested parties in that field. Another term for these types of sources can also be academic sources. They can include reports, articles analyzing other research or articles even doing their own research. For more information, check out these FAQs:

What About Library Resources?

In most cases, the books you get from the library and articles you find in the library's research databases are usually reliable and credible. These sources have usually gone through a traditional editorial process, which means that someone or some group has checked all the facts and arguments the author made and deemed them suitable for publishing. However, you still have to think about whether or not the book or article is current and relevant for your project--for example, libraries often subscribe to popular magazines like "People" and "Vogue" which are not scholarly sources. For more information, check out these FAQs:


Pre-Evaluation: The Dirty W's

"The Dirty W's" is a quick way to pre-evaluate a source to determine if it is worth evaluating more deeply or for use in everyday life as a quick evaluation method. NOTE: This is NOT a replacement for more in-depth evaluation of websites and internet sources used for academic research and college papers.

Whenever you find a source, ask yourself WhoWhen, and Why

Pre-Evaluation: The Dirty W's
"W" What "W" Means Questions To Ask What to Look For
Who Author / Creator
  • Who wrote the information?
  • Can you find an author's name?
  • Can you find information about the author to determine if they are qualified to post this information?
  • Can you find an organization's name?
  • Can you find information about the organization to determine if they are qualified to post this information?
  • Can you find contact information?
  • Author / Creator / Publisher
  • About Us
  • Contact Us
When Date of Publication, Creation, or Last Update
  • When was it published or last updated?
  • Can you find the date?
  • How relevant is the date to the information on the site?
  • Date
  • Updated / Last Updated
  • Published
Why Purpose / Reason
  • Why is the site there?
  • Can you find information about the author or organization to determine reason?
  • Is the author or organization affiliated with a cause that could bias the information on the site?
  • Is that relevant to your information need?
  • Are there ads that could affect what is published on the site and create bias?
  • Is the site community edited, meaning the information you want to use could change from day to day?
  • Is the site trying to sell something? Is it a vendor site or is it a site with articles and advertisements?
  • Mission Statement
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Advertising & Sponsorship Policy
  • Advertisements
  • Balance of Article Content vs Advertising Space

What Can The Dirty W's Be Used For?

You can use the Dirty W's (3 W's) as a quick pre-evaluation method to determine if sources are appropriate for your research. You can also use this method in your everyday life to become a responsible and effective consumer, producer, and transmitter of information.


  • Allows you can more quickly move on to better resources
  • Allows to determine if the source is worth evaluating more deeply for your research
  • Will increase the quality of your information consumption


  • The Dirty W's is not enough information/evaluation to defend a source to use in academic research.

For more information, check out these FAQs: