If you’re looking for a credible source to bolster your own work or complete a research project, you’ll only want the best. When writing an essay or posting an authoritative article to your website, you need to rely on credible sources. A credible source is one whose authorship and information can be vetted. That is, the ideas are the writer’s own ideas, and there’s substantial evidence in support of their statements.
Use a Formula to Test Credibility
Like a good recipe, this formula will help you discern the legitimacy of the source you’re considering. Whether you’re looking at print or online resources, most of these steps can be used for vetting any resource.
Step One: Examine Authorship
Check to see that your source is authored by someone willing to attach their name to it. Then, you can also conduct a brief Google search to check their credentials.
Questions you can ask related to authorship are:
- Where else have they been published?
- Have they been interviewed as an expert on the topic?
- Did they post a byline, or short bio, at the end of the article?
- What are their credentials?
- Are they a recognized authority in their supposed area of expertise?
Step Two: Check the Date of Publication
If a website has attached a date to an article, it means they’ve allowed you the opportunity to see if the content is current and up to date. Some topics are relevant whether they’ve been published in the last year or the last forty years, but you’ll want your sources to be as current as possible.
Step Three: Understand the Domain Name
Certain domains, such as .com, .net, or .org, can be purchased by anyone. However, .edu and .gov are reserved for universities and governments. Typically, these are safe bets. Check to see which department published the information you’re viewing. But, a nice .edu or .gov citation will serve you well.
Step Four: Do a Grammar Check
Although we’re taught not to be “judgy,” we must judge the grammar and writing style of someone we’re about to cite as a credible source. If they use the wrong “too” or “there”, you might want to take a closer look. A singular mistake is merely a sign of human error. Several grammatical errors, however, are a sign it’s time to move on to the next source.
Step Five: Find Their Sources
Does your source cite their sources? If so, this is a wonderful sign. Scholarly articles through your university’s library will cite their sources. This allows you to not only glean information from the initial source but the sources they used too.
Step Five: Evaluate Design
If a webpage makes you flash back to the days of AOL’s dial-up anthem, “You’ve got mail,” you’ll want to move on. While this is a bit of a subjective debate, you’ll be able to spot a more modern site versus a site that hasn’t been updated in a decade.
The reason site design is worth a closer look is because it’s an indication of a well-maintained site that’s updated often for credibility and reliability (and modernity).
Where to Find Credible Sources
You can find credible sources for research papers and projects in print or online.
Start at the Library
Your school or public library can be your best resource for finding credible sources. You’ll not only have access to tons of magazines and books, but also to helpful librarians. Most schools and universities offer resources and services, including research databases, print and ebooks, and resource-sharing partnerships with other libraries.
Popular, multi-disciplinary databases and niche databases include:
- Academic One File (Gale)
- Academic Search Premier
Use Websites and Blogs Carefully
When reviewing websites and blogs, start with the name. Is it a name you recognize? Then, take a look to see how many shares the article has. Read the comments, if there are any. Check the links in the article; where does the writer link to externally? Are those credible sources? While Wikipedia may not be regarded as a credible source, the sources you'll find at the bottom of the page often are.
Also, did you find this source on the tenth page of Google or the first or second page? Articles that rank higher on Google are deemed to be more credible than those back on the tenth page. Although not always an indication of the writer’s credibility, this is another point for consideration.
Examples of Credible Online Sources
Searching the internet can lead you to a plethora of great and terrible sources. Use the tips you’ve read so far to help you see how these websites are great examples of credible sources.
- Psychology Today features articles and news from professionals in the industry and includes an author byline with the author’s credentials.
- The Library of Congress is a trusted government website with a URL that ends in .gov.
- The National Archives is another source ending in .gov that gives you access to historically significant documents.
- Renowned museums like the Smithsonian are considered credible educational sources.
- News sources like NPR are often considered unbiased as they seek to provide the facts in accurate and fair ways.
- Even Google helps you with Google Scholar. If you use the URL scholar.google.com, Google will present you with only scholarly articles in lieu of generic search results.
- Accredited educational institutions offer credible resources like Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).
- Professional groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics offer resources on websites such as HealthyChildren.org.
How to Spot Sources With Low Credibility
A non-credible source is usually easy to spot, but sometimes they are well-camouflaged. Here are some tips on spotting fake news, biased articles, and bad resources:
- It gives no indication where their information came from.
- Text is poorly written with several spelling and grammar mistakes.
- It uses offensive language.
- Most of the text has a negative tone or connotation.
- It only presents one side of a debate, argument, or story.
- The text is very short and excludes any specific details.
- The author frequently uses phrases like “I believe” or “I think.”
- You can’t find all the information you need to cite it properly.
Credible Sources 101
As the world changes, so do the specifics of credibility. But, these tips are likely to span the test of time. If you’re not sure how to cite your sources, check out these bibliography examples.