When writing an essay or posting an authoritative article to your website, you want 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.
If you're looking for a credible source to bolster your own work, you'll only want the best. A non-credible source will give you no indication where they got their information, will be poorly written, and will make your tail curl if you suspect it may even be plagiarized.
How to find credible sources? Begin at your school's library and extend into the vast web. After we discuss those two elements, you'll find a formula to help you tell if a source is credible.
Truth be told, if you're writing a research paper for school, you'll want to start with the library. Most schools and universities offer resources and services, including research databases, print and e-books, and resource-sharing partnerships with other libraries.
Much of what you'll find in these databases are scholarly and, thus, reliable sources. Popular, multi-disciplinary databases include Academic Search Premier and ProQuest. You'll also find "niche" databases that contain articles on one subject, like science, history, or art. Here's a bit more on that from the University of Michigan.
Additionally, you can do a Google search, but not just any Google search. If you use the URL scholar.google.com, Google will present you with only scholarly articles in lieu of generic search results.
As for websites and blogs, start with the name. Is it a name you recognize? Industry and trade organizations and publishers often run digital magazines or online blogs.
So, if you're working on a paper for your psychology class, perhaps you'll check out Psychology Today before scanning for other credible sources. If you're writing a paper for history, check out the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or the Smithsonian.
In these instances, searching for a "brand name" is a good rule of thumb. That said, this doesn't rule out a blog just because it's your first time visiting their page. If you've found an article you like, see who wrote it. Did they post a byline, or short bio, at the end of the article? Does the writer seem credible? What are their credentials? Are they a recognized authority in their supposed area of expertise?
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.
Like a good recipe, this formula- when combined - will help you discern the legitimacy of the source you're considering.
While a scholarly article from the library database is certain to be credible, you might want to refer to this formula when using online websites and blogs or other publications.
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. Where else have they been published? Have they been interviewed as an expert on the topic?
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.
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.
Grammar - 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.
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.
Site 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).
Consider this your subjective guide on how to find a credible source. Some of these tips are subject to change, but if your source material checks off a good amount of these considerations, you're on your way.
Essay writing is a bit of an art form. If you're looking for a few tips, check out How to Write an Essay. In particular, a strong intro and a tight conclusion will help you soar to new heights. And check out these bibliography examples, if you're not sure how to cite your sources. We hope you enjoy the research you're conducting and pull together a fabulous summation of all your ideas!