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CO 480 Research: Evaluating sources in math

Critically evaluating sources

When doing research, wherever you search and for whatever you find you are going to have to decide if you think that piece of information is credible. Critically evaluating this information is an important step in the research process.

It can be helpful to think about this as building an argument. If you cite a source in your paper and someone reads it and questions you, would you be able to defend your decision? To explain why you thought it was a good source?

Being critical of the information you are finding and using does not mean you are being negative towards it. It means you are taking the time to ask important questions about the source.

RADAR Framework

It is not enough that a source is broadly on your topic. You should focus on what answers your questions and/or builds your argument. This may seem superficial at first, but take some time to think about it. Consider if it has enough detail to be useful when doing university level research.

  • How does this information help me accomplish my goals and/or answer my question?
  • Which discipline is this information from?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How is this information related to the task at hand?
  • Does it meet the requirements for the assignment?

Consider an author’s expertise when evaluating their work. If a person has not spent time with a subject, studying it, learning about it, exploring the theories or principles underlying it, they are unlikely to be able to explain it accurately, apply it correctly, or provide meaningful analysis. An author’s educational and professional background is often a good indication of their expertise, and how that person is viewed by their peers – other researchers in their area – is often a good indication of their authority. The more complex a subject, the more specific you should be about someone’s expertise.          

  • Who created the information? One person? Many people? Government? A Corporation? A Non-Profit? Who are they affiliated with?
  • Do they do work in this field often?
  • What is their reputation?
  • What are their qualifications and experience?
  • What in their background makes you think you should spend your precious time on their work? Do you have reason to believe that they understand the complexities of this topic?
  • How do you know what an author’s background is? How could you find out or verify it? 

When was the information published? Again, this may seem superficial at first, but take some time to think about it. Just because something is older doesn’t mean that it is outdated, but it is important to consider if new research exists that contradicts what was previously thought to be true.

  • When was the information created or last updated?
  • Is currency important to this question or discipline?
  • Is it current enough for your topic?
  • Could this information be outdated? Have we learned anything new since this was written that might change how we think about this topic?
  • Is this a landmark piece of work, well-known in the field? 
  • Could this work be used to provide historical context or comparison?

Appearance is important as different types of sources are identifiable through their appearance and context clues.

Accuracy is important because errors and untruths distort a line of reasoning. When you use inaccurate information in your own work, you undermine your own credibility.             

  • Is the information presented professionally and/or academically? 
  • Are there clear editing errors such as spelling, grammar, or typos?
  • Does the author use outside sources to strengthen their main argument(s)?
  • Can you follow the outside sources? Are they quality? 
  • Is their argument or thesis well defended and logical?
  • Has this information been peer-reviewed? Has anyone with subject area expertise checked it?

Reason is important because books, articles, web pages, and other information sources are made to serve a purpose. They can educate, entertain, or sell a product or point of view. Some sources may be frivolous or commercial in nature, providing inaccurate, false, or biased information. Other sources are more ambiguous about any potential partiality. Varied points of view can be valid if they are based on good reasoning and careful use of evidence.             

  • Why has this information been made available? To inform, sell, educate, entertain, or convince?
  • How has the information been presented? A book, an academic journal, a popular magazine, a website, or a trade periodical?  
  • What type of information is this? New research? An experiment, a research study, a theoretical model, a case study, an opinion piece, propaganda, or something else?
  • Who has funded this research? is this stated?
  • Has the information been written with an objective, impartial point of view? is it biased?
  • Have they included their methodology, population, and/or data? Is it appropriate?

About this page

Information adapted from:

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

William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University. (28 June, 2018). Evaluating sources: Using the RADAR framework. Retrieved from http://libguides.lmu.edu/aboutRADAR.