Franklin Style Manual Online

1.2 Evaluating Sources

As you browse through each potential source, pay extra attention to the details that determine the source’s credibility. These include the author, the date of publication, and the publisher, as well as some qualities of the writing itself. Writing that includes documentation for references and standard edited English tends to carry more weight with academic audiences, especially if the source has been recently published by a peer‐reviewed journal or respected academic press.

That is not to say that other sources will not be useful for some writing projects. For instance, you may be assigned to write an analysis of an advertising campaign, which would obviously require you to cite sources that do not have the level of scrutiny required for academic publications. Likewise, you may be asked to analyze popular views of a software product as conveyed in selfpublished blogs and online consumer forums, neither of which can stand for academic publications, no matter the credentials of the contributors. These sources are fine for some purposes, but not others. The appropriateness of the source depends entirely upon the purpose of the assignment and how you are using the source in the paper. It is your job as a researcher and writer to make sure you know the criteria that determine a source’s credibility for your writing project.

1.2.1 Assessing the authority of sources

The overall authority of a source often depends upon the credentials of those writing or producing the sources, but it also depends upon whether the source has been scrutinized by professionals in the field. Peer reviewed journals represent the pinnacle of academic authority (even though the articles in them are not perfect or beyond critique), since multiple experts in the discipline have read and approved a source for publication. Journalistic sources, such as newspapers, are also considered highly credible, because a professional editor exercising respected journalistic standards has reviewed the work of practicing journalists. Some current event sources may nonetheless be stronger than others. For any edited source, you can learn much about its authority and suitability by researching the periodical or press itself, which may have particular focus areas, biases, and agendas that may affect how readers perceive the source’s credibility.

On the other end of the spectrum are unedited or self‐published sources. In particular, sources written by anonymous online authors, such as Wikipedia articles or reader‐posted comments on any site, do not uphold the standards of academic credibility, because readers never know the credentials of the last person who edited the entry. Any detail you find for reference on Wikipedia or similar wiki sites should be confirmed by a source having more authoritative production guidelines, such as those for peer‐reviewed journals or professionally edited books. In fact, a wiki article itself may cite credible sources, which you can access directly for your own research project.

1.2.2 Assessing Web search results

Bear in mind that sources found online tend to require extra scrutiny, especially when located via a Web search engine. One cannot simply type subject keywords into Google and expect to retrieve instantly the most recent, unbiased, or scholarly of sources. Many valuable sources may indeed show up in queries conducted via one of these broad Web searches, but you will need to sift through the results to determine which sources are appropriate for your assignment.

There are various qualities to look for in assessing appropriateness. Academic or professional sources from the Web include organizational home pages or online professional journals. Nonprofessional and non‐academic sources may include personal home pages, blogs, or general online audience magazines. In general, if many pop‐up advertisements, advertising banners on the sides of the page, and/or “flashy” advertisements exist on the page, it is not likely to have much academic credibility—even so, it may be suitable as a source representing popular perspectives or, in some cases, news on current events. If a page references other scholarly works or professionals, it may be worth investigating, or perhaps the sources referenced by the page are worth review themselves.

Remember, finally, that sources used in a project should be accessible to readers, who can learn details about the source on your References page. Some of these details may be tricky to identify with some online sources. The trickier it is, the less likely those sources will be of use to readers.

Last Updated: 06/8/2012 13:03