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Evaluating Sources

Evaluate websites and other sources of information for relevance, accuracy, authority, purpose, and timeliness.


Goal: Find a quality source, relevant for your information needs.

rel·e·vance  (noun):  the quality or state of being, closely connected or appropriate. (i.e., "this film has contemporary relevance")

Relevance considers the importance of the information for your research needs. A relevant information source answers your research question. To determine relevance, the purpose and bias must be understood. In fact, all aspects of evaluation must be taken into consideration to determine relevance. 

Is it Relevant?

Is it relevant? Ask these questions:

  • How is the information useful to you? How well does it relate to your topic or answer your research question?
  • What details are provided that specifically address and answer your research question or thesis?
  • Relevance is intermixed with all of the other evaluation criteria: What is the purpose of this source? Is it to sell a product, educate, advocate or persuade, or to entertain? Who is the intended audience? Are political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases evident? 


Don't just pick the source at the top of your search results!

  • Remember, search engines match words, not concepts. Some search engines and databases will sort search results by "relevance." This only means that there is an algorithm which uses measures like how many times your search words appear on the page, or whether they are in the title. The computer can't determine whether the source is actually relevant to you -- only you can do that. 

  • Look for an abstract or summary that can tell you more about the source. 

  • In a book, you might need to scan the table of contents or even read the preface or introduction.

  • In a scholarly research article, read the abstract first - it should summarize the research. Then read the introduction, and the discussion and/or conclusion before diving into to the rest of the article. 


St. Louis Community College Libraries

Florissant Valley Campus Library
3400 Pershall Rd.
Ferguson, MO 63135-1408
Phone: 314-513-4514

Forest Park Campus Library
5600 Oakland
St. Louis, MO 63110-1316
Phone: 314-644-9210

Meramec Campus Library
11333 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122-5720
Phone: 314-984-7797

Wildwood Campus Library
2645 Generations Drive
Wildwood, MO 63040-1168
Phone: 636-422-2000