Evaluating Sources - School of Social Work

Evaluating Websites and Online Periodicals
Library Databases: Articles
When doing research, it is preferrable to use sources from WSU’s
library databases. Most of what you find by searching through the
library search engines will be academic in nature and suitable for a
research essay.
You want to strive to use as many “peer-reviewed” sources as
possible. Peer-reviewed means that the author submitted the
article to an academic journal and at least three professionals
reviewed the article. Example
You can often find peer-reviewed articles on websites. As long as
you can verify the author and journal title, these are usually safe to
Often when you Google a topic, you will find a website that simply
provides summaries or research with no author, no credentials and
no publication date. Example
Beyond Peer-Reviewed: Credible Newspapers,
Magazines and News Websites
Most major newspapers are suitable to use as
sources in research essays.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street
Journal, CNN, The New Yorker, NPR, The Nation
Local publications like the Detroit Free Press or
Wayne State’s The South End are good choices as
Problematic Sources: Wikipedia, About.com or
any collectively created site
Wikipedia and About.com are not bad sites to gain
quick, general knowledge about an issue, but they are
never acceptable as sources in an academic essay.
They are not in-depth sources of information and do
not have the reliability and accuracy of newspaper
articles or peer-reviewed sources.
Anyone can edit Wikipedia.
Tip: Use the Work Cited of the Wikipedia, but never
use Wikipedia as a source.
Signs of a Quality Website
Accuracy and Authority: The author’s credentials
(PhD, MSW) or organization’s credentials
(accredited, well-known in the field) are provided.
Currency: The date of publication and last change
is provided.
Objectivity: The site does not have any obvious
political, commercial or religious leanings.
Accuracy and Authority: Electronic Articles
Is the information correct?
Any statistic or study needs to be cited. Even a newspaper article
will give where a statistic is taken from.
Does the author have the expertise to write on the topic?
Anyone writing for a major state or national publication, even if
not a researcher themselves, in the case of journalists,
understands that arguments need to be substantiated with
evidence and proof. If you use the sources from the library
search engines, you do not need to even worry about this
question. It is the other non-periodical or non peer-reviewed
websites that need to be evaluated.
When a website is not a news source or an
academic site…
Does the author or organization have the expertise to write
on the topic?
Commercial Sponsor: If a website is a .com or a .net and is not a
major news source, be wary. The information provided has been
reviewed by corporations not academics.
Government or Educational Sponsor: If a website is a .gov or a
.edu, you are usually safe to trust the studies and statistics found
on these pages.
Non-commercial Sponsor: .orgs can have wide ranging authors
and sponsoring organizations. Consider the religious or political
Personal Sponsor: Never use a personal webpage as research!
A page made by an undergraduate or graduate student for a
class assignment is a personal webpage.
Examples of Websites with Suspect Authority
and Accuracy
Welfare: Who is the Author?
Bad Site:
Better Site:
*Please note that not everything on the better site is equally good.
http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/people/w-e-b-dubois/ (Bad:
Has no citations and is written by an “Admin”)
http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/recollections-andopinions/ (Good: Has authors and dates)
Currency: How recent is the info?
This is an easy one: Do not use any source that does
not include dates for statistics or the date of the site’s
publication on the web.
If you are using a peer-reviewed or major news
periodical, make sure that the source is not more than
a few years old. If you want to use an older source,
make sure it is because it is an original source of
theory or is often cited as the penultimate text on the
Any website that does not regularly update should be
Examples of “Good” and “Bad” Currency Websites
Good: This website contains not only recent articles,
but older ones on the same page. The dates help you
decipher which articles you can use.
Bad: No dates and is a general encyclopedic entry
Objectivity: Websites not affiliated with an
academic journal or major news source
No source is without bias, but you want to avoid
sources that are blatantly pushing an agenda.
This is sometimes hard because you may really
agree with the source but it is best to find that
opinion in an academic article or a news source.
Look for bias in .orgs, .coms, .nets and personal
webpages. Example:
Even sources backed up with research, on these
types of sites, will not be considered quality
sources by your professor.
Examples of Websites with Bias
Organizations that advocate stances on controversial topics like abortion, gun rights, social
security, and even child poverty and welfare, will also use statistics selectively, depending on their
stance on the issue. You may passionately agree with the stance but avoid using these .orgs and
It is much safer to get information about these issues from academic journals or major news
sources. Government websites often have quality research on these topics as well.
Food Tax: What is the Agenda of the Group?
“Its Web site states that Americans Against Food Taxes is a "coalition of concerned citizens –
responsible individuals, financially strapped families, small and large businesses in communities
across the country" who opposed a government-proposed tax on food and beverages, including
soda, juice drinks, and flavored milks. But its extensive membership consists mainly of lobbying
groups for packaged food and soda companies, chain restaurant corporations and the world's large
food and soft drink manufacturers and distributors, including the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. PepperRoyal Crown Bottling Co., PepsiCo, Canada Dry Bottling Co. of New York, the Can Manufacturers
Institute, 7-Eleven Convenience Stores, and Yum! Brands.”
Questions to Evaluate Sites
Does the website or online article use citations for
sources? No
Does the author or organization have the
credentials and expertise to be experts? No Yes
Does the sponsoring organization (Bad, Lipitor or
Good, APA) have an ulterior motive for providing
the information? No
Can anyone edit the information at anytime? No
Basic Library Search
Two ways to search (of many):
1) You can select “Social Work” in Subject Matter from
“Article Databases”. Click “MetaSearch”
2) You also could do a general whole catalogue search
with a keyword, title or author search.
If you know the journal title or periodical title that you
would like to search, you can do that through the
What issues have you had with finding sources?
Tutor Contact Info
Jessamon Jones
Writing Tutor
[email protected]
Thompson Home Room 007
Spring/Summer Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-5
Vanessa Gualtieri
Writing Tutor
[email protected]
Thompson Home Room 011
Spring/Summer Hours: Monday - 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Tuesday - 10:00 a.m. 3:00 p.m., Wednesday - 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and Thursday - 10:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m.

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