Skip to Main Content

Information Literacy: Guide for Students: Source Quality

A student launch page for traditional, hybrid, or online classes.

Library Options

Searching the web is an option, but it shouldn't be your ONLY option.

Most students barely scratch the surface of available options for research. Beside books and articles you discover through Google and other online searches, give some or all of the following a try:

The Codes of Gender DVD cover Non-Fiction DVDs

Besides connecting you to some basic factual information on your topic, documentaries on DVD can tune you into the themes of controversy within your topic and introduce you to some notable experts on your topic whose work you can seek out for further detail. Videos might also connect you to the emotional aspects of a topic that might be more difficult to realize through reading alone.

Streaming Non-Fiction Video (Films on Demand)

Image: Screen shot of streaming video 

Madison College Libraries provides access to 20 thousand plus streaming videos on a wide-variety of topics. They can be watched anywhere you have access to the internet, but you must login with your college username and password when off-campus.

Scholarly Articles

Image: Cover of Journal 'Family in America'

You can find articles published in academic journals both on the web and by searching library databases. Scholarly articles explore original research done by experts in every academic field imaginable. 

What is a 'quality' source?

Why should you be concerned about source quality as you research your topic? In fact, there are several reasons:

  • Faculty will consider the choices you made as they evaluate your work
  • A key skill of the digital age is evaluating information on the basis of credibility
  • Biased, incorrect, or misleading information will quickly diminish the credibility of your writing
  • As a participant in scholarly conversations, you have a responsibility to share only that information that contributes to the continuity of truth and discovery

How will you measure 'quality'?

First consideration: What is your purpose?

Even within the sphere of academic writing, the manner in which you make use of sources can vary. Sources can provide:

  • Definitions and background to inform the reader
  • Illustrative examples for clarification of your assertions
  • Real-life examples or case studies to enliven your writing
  • Expert quotes, opinions or the findings of scholarly research
  • Data and statistics to support your assertions or conclusions

For the first three of the above, news sources, such as magazine and newspaper articles, and general books could provide excellent background and detail for more compelling writing.

How can you evaluate sources?

See below checklist for ideas on how to decide between a good source and a questionable one:

Image: Source checklist for academic writing


PROWL Evaluation

Prepare to:

Image: Logo for PROWL. Text explanation follows.

P - Pause

Pause as you come upon a page or post and ask yourself if you have any strong emotions about it. Does the page or post have any biases? What is your purpose in looking at it and do you bring in any of your own biases as you read it?

R – Retrace

Retrace, if necessary, where your source came from to see it in its original context and if it is accurate with what you now see.

O – Observe

Observe the credentials of the author or organization putting out the information to check to see if it is reliable, if their information is supported by evidence, and if the tone seems unbiased.

W – Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Take a couple of minutes to review the 5 W’s, a strategy journalists use in vetting their sources. Who wrote the source? What are they arguing or pointing out? When did they write it and is it current enough? Where did they find their sources? Why did they write it?

L – Look

Look for other sources of information, perhaps more-trusted or in-depth, that confirm, complement, or refute the page or post you’re reading.