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Biography Research: Evaluate Sources

Evaluating Sources

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EasyBib Website Evaluation Checker

Then answer the questions asked!

Website Evaluations from EasyBib

Web Site Evaluation Guide

Click Website Evaluation Guide from EasyBib, with detailed examples of sites that ARE credible, MAY BE credible and ARE NOT credible. 

OPVL - Resource Evaluation Tool - Especially Useful for Primary Sources

Analysis of Resources: Origin Purpose Value Limitations

OPVL is an effective tool to analyze primary and secondary source documents.


  Origin is where the source comes from.

  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
  • Who is the author or artist?
  • What date it was written or finished?
  • In which country the author or artist was born?
  • Where was it created?
  • What type of sources was it when it  was first presented (newspaper, book, letter, performance, display, speech, etc.)?
  • What was the historic context in which the source was created?
  • Is there anything known about the author that is important to know to evaluate it? 


Purpose is where you have to put yourself in the author or artist's shoes. The purpose should relate to the origin of the source.

  • What do you think the author was trying to communicate?
  • What ideas or feelings was the author trying to express or make others feel?
  • Why did the author create this document?  Why does it exist?
  • Who was the intended audience of this source? Who was it created for?
  • What is the obvious message of the source? What other messages are there that might not be obvious?
  • The purpose is especially important when it comes to pieces of propaganda as sources.


Value is how valuable this source is. Basically it's linked to the amount of bias in the source:  the more bias = the less valuable (usually). Primary sources are obviously more valuable than secondary/tertiary ones.

  • Why is this source important in the study of this topic?
  • What is an important quote from this source?
  • What value does this source have that might not be available elsewhere?
  • What can one tell about the author of this source?
  • Who does this source represent?
  • What was going on in history when this source was created?
  • What new information does this piece bring to the understanding of the topic?
  • How does this source help me better understand my research question?
  • How does this source help me better understand the topic?


Limitations is also linked to bias, each source will be at least a little biased and thus they are limited by that. Do not state bias alone as a limitation. All sources have bias.

  • Why is this source biased?
  • How is this source biased?
  • Has the source has been translated from the original? (i.e., Hitler's diary entry was  translated into English by a historian and you're using the historian's book as a source)  If so, then the language difference will be another source of inaccuracy and a limitation.
  • What information was not available to the author when the source was created?
  • Did the author get the information from a reliable source?
  • Does the author have reason to emphasize certain facts over other facts?  How might the source be different if it were presented to another audience?\
  • Does the author have personal involvement in the event? How might this effect the source?
  • What specific information might the author has chosen to leave out? Why?
  • Does the author concede that a certain point as is inconvenient for the author to admit?
  • How might the historical context in which the document was created influence the interpretation of the document?
  • What is the length of time between the creation of this source and the topic or event it relates to? How is this time difference important to our study of the topic?
  • What should you be cautious about when using this source?

Thank you to Florida International University!

The following grid can help you understand OPVL by various types of sources

Type of Document






Primary, by author for author, rarely published

To keep memories for later (sometimes with eye to publication)

Eyewitness to event and usually written immediately or shortly after occurred, rarely lies to oneself

Only one person’s view, there will be perspective issues, may be intended for publication therefore can even lie to oneself


Primary, by author or interviewee

To offer an eyewitnesses’ perspective on an event


Length of time between events and recollection can lead to loss of info, or changing of story, always perspective issues to be considered


Usually by expert (often academic historian)

To educate colleagues, students, and the public (can be for monetary gain or promotion file)

Usually many years of primary research in archives and thorough knowledge of secondary works on topic

Always perspective issues, usually not an eyewitness, can err deliberately or accidently, not vey useful for quick overview since it will contain many pages of extraneous issues

General Text

Secondary, usually done by a panel of experts on country or topic

To educate students

Offers quick overview for student seeking quick information

Usually NOT an expert on every topic in text so there may be gaps and errors, may be too brief


Primary, done by artist for public at that time

To educate, entertain, and often to sell newspapers or magazines

Offer at least one person’s perspective on issue of the time, event

Don’t know how widespread it is, often exaggeration is used for comic effect



For public usually

Offers official view of speaker, it is what audience hears

May not be real views of the speaker, speeches are designed to sway opinion

Internal Memo


For internal examination amongst officials or government departments

Usually do not lie, so it is official view (as a speech) but private thoughts are often given too

Do not know what outsiders know, only what officials are saying to each other, may be fabricated

Thank you to Florida International University!

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The CRAAP test!
Here is an acronym that might help you remember the criteria needed to evaluate a source!


Currency refers to how recent the information is.

Questions to Ask

  1. When was the information published?
  2. Has the source been modifiedupdated or revised? When did this take place?
  3. If the information is found online, does the Web site have current links or broken links?

Remember the Context!

  • Does it matter if the information is old or new? Sometimes, the currency of the source is very important. For example, if you are researching about a time-sensitive topic such as a current event, then it's important to find sources that have been published recently. Likewise, if you are searching for information about what restaurant to go to tonight, it's important to use current information. (You don't want to arrive at a location only to find that the restaurant went out of business ages ago!)
  • Sometimes, though, the currency is not that important! For example, if you are searching for literary criticism of Shakespeare's plays, then the currency might not matter at all. Criticism written in 1902 about imagery in "Hamlet" can still be relevant today.

Common Pitfalls

  • "The newer, the better" is not necessarily true.
    • Remember that currency is only one of several areas to consider when evaluating a source. Just because a source is current does not mean that it is the best choice for your research.
  •  "If it comes from the web, then it must be current" is not always true.
    • Information posted online can be there for several years. It's your job as a researcher to be a detective and hunt for the date that the information was posted or last updated.

Relevancy refers to the appropriateness of the source for your needs.

Questions to Ask About the Relevancy of a Source

  1. Is the information you found related to and useful for your topic and assignment?
  2. Is the source the appropriate type for your needs?  For example, do you need a book or a scholarly journal article? Do you need primary or secondary sources of information?
  3. Is the information too broad or too specific?

Remember the Context!

  • Sometimes it's very important to evaluate a source's relevancy to your information needs. For example, if you are required to use primary documents in a research paper about the French Revolution, it's important to make sure you found primary documents and not secondary sources.
  • Other times, it's not as important to evaluate a source's relevancy. For example, if you want general information about your favorite reality star, you don't have to worry so much about the type of source you use or the scope of the information.

Common Pitfalls

  • The source that I found meets my requirements for authority, accuracy, purpose, and currency. This means that it's a perfect match for my information needs!

Hold on a minute! There is one more step to take before you can use your source. Even if it passes your other areas of evaluation, if it is not relevant to your needs, then it's not appropriate to use.

Authority refers to the credibility of the source's author.

Questions to Ask About the Authority of a Source

  1. Who is the author? (Remember that authors can be organizations or institutions.)
  2. Consider the organizational affiliation of the author—respected organizations publish the work of respected authors!
  3. What makes the author an "expert" in the field he or she is writing about? What are his or her qualifications? Does he or she have education or work experience in the field? Has he or she published anything else about the subject?
  4. Can you contact the author? Are there telephone numbers, addresses and/or email addresses listed?

Remember the Context!

  • Are you using information for a research assignment? If so, it can be very important that the author is trustworthy. For example, if you are researching about the importance of bilingual education, you would want to use sources written by experts in the educational fields. Likewise, if you were searching for information about how to fix your vehicle, you might consult a local mechanic because he or she is knowledgeable about cars.
  • Sometimes, though, the authority of the source might not matter that much. For example, you might use Yelp to read reviews of restaurants in your area. In this case, it doesn't matter if the reviews at Yelp are written by average people who are not "experts" in the restaurant industry.

Common Pitfalls

The information is in a book published by a major publisher. Therefore, the author must be believable! Hmmm....For one thing, self-publishing is very popular now--so there is no editor, no publisher, no reviewer to check the truth of the book.

And, then consider the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Published by Anchor House, a large and respected publishing company,

a million little pieces

This book was first sold as a non-fiction title about the author's true-life experiences overcoming alcoholism and the criminal lifestyle. When Oprah added A Million Little Pieces to her popular book club, Frey became a well-known author. Today, he is well-known for another reason: his book is a fraud. James Frey embellished several parts of the story, adding non-truths to make the book more interesting. It goes to show that you need to do your homework before trusting an author!

Accuracy refers to the trustworthiness of a source.

Questions to Ask About the Accuracy of a Source

  1. Is the information repeated anywhere else in your other sources? Yes, you should have at least 3 sources with similar information!
  2.  Does the source include references that clearly indicate where the author found his or her data?

Remember the Context! 

  • Sometimes, the accuracy of a source will be very important. For instance, if you are writing a research paper about the effects of bullying on a child's self-esteem, it is important to use sources with accurate information in them.
  • You will want to review the source's references and double-check the information in other sources.
  • Similarly, if you are surfing the internet for medical advice, you will want to double-check other sources to see if the information you find is accurate.

Common Pitfalls

  • This source is the first one listed from my Google search, or in the database, or in the library catalog. Therefore it must be the most accurate source for my needs!

Well--consider this: depending on what you used to search for information, the result list might be listed:

  • according to date,
  • alphabetically.
  • because the source sponsor paid a fee to the search engine,
  • or any number of other reasons!

Just because something is listed first does not mean that it is the best result for your information needs.

Purpose refers to a source's purpose and point of view. This is where you will search for bias.

Questions to Ask About the Purpose or Bias of a Source

  1. Does the source promote one point or view or one "agenda?"
  2. Are they trying to:
    • sell you something (check for advertising)?
    • convince you of something?
    • ask you to support something or sign a petition?
    • be funny, ironic, or sarcasticThis is especially a challenge for English-language learners

Remember the Context!

  • Does it matter if the source is biased? If you are writing a research paper about cancer treatments, you will most likely need balanced, objective information.
  • On the other hand, if you are writing an argumentative paper, you will need information about all points of view on a given topic. In this case, it's important that you recognize the bias, consider it, and address it, rather than avoid it.

Common Pitfalls

  • "The information is from an article in a library database. Therefore, the source must be objective!"

Not so fast! Some articles in databases come from Opinion sections in newspapers or websites, or the author is biased because he/she is presenting his/her view about how to solve a problem or understand an issue.

  • Best tactic: assume bias and try to find it! Most writers have a point of view--that's what makes research so interesting.
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Fact Checker Sites

Fact Checker Sites

Sometimes bias is good, because you want to provide both sides of an issue. But there are facts and then there are lies