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SPCOM 193: Evaluating Sources

Selecting quality resources

Being critical in science is important. 

Critically appraising information you read becomes intuitive, but like any skill set, this takes practice. As scientists, we have to make sure we consider all of the variables of the information find. There is a lot of pseudoscience and bad science out there, but there is also a lot of good science that just changes over time as we learn more


What is RADAR?

The RADAR Framework can help you remember what kinds of questions you should be asking about an information source as you evaluate it for quality and usefulness in your research.


 Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience?

Authority: the source of your information

  • Who is the creator or author?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?

Date: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published?
  • When was the information updated?
  • Does your topic require recent information?

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Supported by evidence
  • Provides logical analysis
  • Cites quality research and studies

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, propaganda?
  • Is the language or tone unbiased and free from emotion?

What is the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources?

Primary Secondary Tertiary

Primary sources are first-hand accounts or individual representations. They are created by those who have directly witnessed what they are describing. 

Secondary sources interpret and/or analyze primary sources, as they offer different perspectives, analyses and conclusions on a given topic.    Tertiary sources are a compilation or digest of primary and secondary materials. Generally, they are agreed upon fact.


  • Research data and surveys
  • Letters or diaries
  • Original photographs
  • Speeches or autobiographies
  • Newspaper reports
  • Original research in math and science (journal articles and conference proceedings)


  • Essays or reviews
  • Articles that analyze or discuss ideas and events
  • Criticisms or commentaries


  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Guidebooks
  • Almanacs


How can I learn more?

Visit the UW library’s online research guide Evaluating Information Sources.


Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal Of Information Science, 39, 470-478. doi:10.1177/0165551513478889

Types of Information

When you search for information online, think about the type of information you are finding online, is it scholarly or not scholarly, and how does it help you. If it's for an assignment you want to make sure it's scholarly.


Popular Information

Non-scholarly information is written at a more general level, and may be written by experts or non-experts. Non-scholarly information can help you understand a topic, but does not have the same level of authority, depth or academic rigour as scholarly material. Wikipedia is an example of non-scholarly information. While the information may be helpful you often don't know who wrote it, what their expertise is, and you cannot always trust the sources attached. 

Non-Scholarly Information generally:

  • Includes newspapers, magazines, trade publications, blogs (even when written by an expert).
  • Doesn't include an abstract, or reference list.
  • Uses everyday language.
  • Most of the internet.


Academic Information:

Academic information is written by an expert in the field, and often is aimed at the level for people who are also experts in that field. While you are learning it is important to remember that you need to build a trusted foundation of knowledge. Generally this information is available in journals, textbooks, and technical documents and goes through a formal peer review process. 

Scholarly information will generally include the following:

  • Details of the author - a biography, credentials, or other information that lets you assess the authours expertise.  
  • Journal articles will provide an abstract summarizing the article
  • A bibliography or reference list showing details of works the author has referred to in the body of the article. 
  • Technical language relating to the area of the work