No matter what kind of source you're using - print, electronic or otherwise - knowing when the information was gathered and published is important. Some fields, such as science and medicine, are constantly developing, making older sources outdated. On the other hand, fields such as literature and history may require you to use primary sources which were written during a specific time period. When you're choosing and evaluating sources you should pay close attention to the requirements of your topic or project and whether or not the sources you're choosing satisfy those requirements. Consider
You can consult dozens of resources while doing your research, but if they're not relevant to your topic they won't be of any help to you. It's important to make sure the the books and articles you're using are not only closely related to the topic that you're working with, but also that they are suitable for your audience. Ask yourself
Who's writing this, anyway? What are the author's credentials? When you're evaluating a source, considering the author is a good place to start. Thinking about this person's educational background, publishing history, and professional affiliation (where they work) can help you to figure out a couple of important things. Ask yourself
Accuracy of the information in a source has a lot to do with both the author of that source and with whether or not that source can be considered scholarly. Sometimes an author's personal feelings, or bias, can cloud their work, so it's important to be sure that the information you include in your own paper is coming from an authentic, accurate, and unbiased resource. Ask yourself
Look closely at the content to find clues to the purpose of the information. You want to know if the purpose is to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade. Look for links to content which may detail that information, such as menu tabs labeled “About” or “About Us.” Sometimes the purpose is given in a Mission Statement. Sometimes the purpose is not obvious. If the author or sponsor does not make the purpose clear, then it raises a question whether this is a deliberate attempt to hide the true purpose or if it is simply poor design and editing. Ask yourself
Considering where and/or by whom a source is published can be useful. The publisher can often give clues to the intended audience and to whether or not the author can be considered an authority. A book that is published by a university press, for example, can probably be safely considered scholarly. On the other hand, a book that is self-published rests solely on the qualifications of the author, without the history and reputation of an academic institution to back it up, and a book that is commercially published is probably not intended for a scholarly audience. This is also true of Internet sources. A Webpage that is affiliated with an academic or educational institution is always going to be a safer bet than a page with a more questionable background.