Source Analysis

Source Analysis
When you analyze a source, you are evaluating it for credibility. In the internet age, with the
much of our information coming from the web, it is crucial to analyze a source. Any Joe Schmo
can post their ideas and claim status as an expert on a topic. Remember, a critical thinker
maintains a balance between skepticism (doubting) and open-mindedness.
Be skeptical and open-minded
Evaluating the Credibility of Your Sources
Remember, sources are a means of supporting the argument you make. They give you ideas
and information—not to mention quotes that help fulfill the word count requirements! This
means that the sources you reference need to be credible and authoritative. How do you know
that your sources are of value? Ask yourself the following questions:
Where was the source published?
 Is it in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal (i.e. an article that is evaluated by other experts
in the field) or published by a university press, professional society, or scientific
publisher (all of which also operate peer-review processes)? These texts will have
scholarly credibility.
 Was the source published on-line? This is not necessarily bad, but it will depend on who
published it, why it was published, and how you intend to use the material. There are
many articles published under the guise of scholarly work by individuals claiming
expertise, but which are of highly questionable credibility. If you have doubts about an
on-line source, ask me.
Who wrote it?
 Do your best to briefly research the author. Is the author affiliated with a university or
another institution? What else has the author written? Try to figure out why the author
wrote the article—Is there a hidden agenda? (Does the author want you to buy
something, become a member, or take action?)
Is the piece timely and appropriate for its subject area?
 In some disciplines like the sciences, material can become quickly outdated. In others,
like literature and history, texts are considered valuable for longer. If the material does
not measure up to expected standards of scholarly work, it may still be of use to you.
(See below.)
For whom is the source written?
 Is the intended audience a scholarly one? If so, it should have a clear bibliography that
you will also be able to consult for further sources.
Will you use the source as a primary or secondary text?
 A primary text (first hand text like the U.S. Constitution) is a text that needs to be
analyzed. A secondary text (like Sparknotes) is a text where the author has done the
analysis and provides ideas or information that might support your argument, as long as
it is well referenced (labeled in-text citations supported by a bibliography).
Primary Source
Written by Hitler
Secondary Source
Written by a historian about Hitler
Wikipedia: Most college professors will not let you use Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia articles
can be hugely helpful; however, you must check to ensure that Wikipedia’s editors have not
flagged the article (their reason is listed in a box at the beginning of the article) and that there
are no “citation needed” remarks. Articles should be well cited with a corresponding
bibliography. A good Wikipedia bibliography often has links to an original article or can give you
resource information that you can explore yourself. If a Wikipedia article is flawed, you may not
use it as a source. However, you can use it to get a grip on the topic, but you must confirm
information using another, credible source. BTW: Wikipedia will create the reference for your
bibliography in MLA or APA format! You just have to click on “Cite this article.” Also, check first! These articles are more closely scrutinized for reliability.
Just because a source is not credible does not mean it is not valuable. If you are researching
stereotypes, for example, a blog might be valuable for showing how a stereotype is promoted
in society. It is your responsibility to defend your inclusion of a source in your paper.
Imagine you are assigned a research paper with the question, “Are women innately
submissive?” Analyze the following 3 sources in reference to this question. Are they credible?
Can all 3 be used? Why or why not?