Evaluating Credible Sources Used Within a Reading

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify sources cited in a reading.
  • Determine if credible sources were used in a reading.

As you read through research looking for suitable evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. to support your own claimsA statement that something is true, such as the thesis of an essay. A successful writer must present evidence to prove his/her claim., you must be able to evaluate the sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. writers use to support their own claims. In this lesson, you will learn how to identify attributive phrasesA short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. and in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and recognize the writer's use of credibleDescribes a person who is trusted and able to be believed; reliable. sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information..

Identifying Sources Cited in a Reading

Writers need to alert the reader that they have used source materialInformation that is quoted or paraphrased from outside works, such as journal articles, online documents, and books. to strengthen their claims. They do so with attributive phrases and in-text citations; combined, these include all information necessary to locate a source in an essay'sA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. full list of sources. The form of the attributive phrases and in-text citations depends upon the citation style being used. Many college professors require you to use either MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. format to cite sources. Although there are other citationA reference within a text to an outside source of ideas, quotes, or information. Citations can be placed within sentences or in a separate works cited or reference section, as specified by the style guide in use. styles, including The Chicago Manual of StyleA set of guidelines for grammar, punctuation, and citations, widely used by students, editors, and general interest publications., Turabian, and CSE (Council of Science Editors), this lesson will focus on MLA and APA. All citation styles share similar elements; if you understand the major citation elements, you will be able to learn the requirements of any style.

Attributive phrases indicate that a source is about to be incorporated. The attributive phrases in the examples below have been underlined. These examples provide the proper format for in-text citations in both MLA- and APA-style:

MLA: Thomas writes that Evans intended to "inspire a new generation of playwrights" (42).

APA: Thomas writes (2011) that Evans intended to "inspire a new generation of playwrights" (p. 42).

MLA: According to Thomas, Evans wrote best at his home in Florida, "rising early and finishing late" (31).

APA: According to Thomas (2011), Evans wrote best at his home in Florida, "rising early and finishing late" (p. 31).

MLA: In Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Baumeister et al. identify extensive research that demonstrates that increased self-esteem has very few benefits and many disadvantages (2003).

 APA: In Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs (2003) present extensive research that demonstrates that increased self-esteem has very few benefits and many disadvantages.

Note that in APA-style in-text citations, you need to include the year the source material was published or produced.

Also note the use of the term et al. in the MLA-style citation above. Et al. is a Latin expression that means and others. It is an abbreviation that is used to indicate multiple writers of text; however, MLA and APA have different standards for its use. As you can see in the examples above, the cited articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. has four writers. MLA style allows the use of et al. in both in-text cites and in the works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper. whenever there are four or more writers. APA style does not allow use of et al. in the references pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an APA-formatted essay or research paper., but it does allow it in some in-text citations:

As noted above, attributive phrases and citations directly identify where to find more information about a source in the works cited or references page. These pages come directly after your essay and must include full citations for all of the sources used in your work.

Example of an APA references page:


Carol, J.B., Sands, A., & Karotti, R. (2012). The quality of physical education in America. Journal of Middle School Teachers, 220(1), 10-42.
Erickson, A., Winters, C.C., Smith, J., & Douglas, N. (2009). Parachutes, scooters, and kites: Examining the role of play and group activities in middle-school physical education. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychology, 10(3), 66-69.
Mumson, B., & Smith, J. (2011). Teacher-parent communications and the effect on evaluation and development of new school athletic programs: Getting the kids moving. Journal of American Sports, 2(1), 50-62.
Utterly, H., & Finsem, G. (2012). The impact of television, Internet, and video games on the child’s growing reluctance to play sports. Technology and Kids, 16(4), 111-123.

Example of an MLA works cited page:

Works Cited

Carol, John B., Andrea Sands, and Ruth Karotti. “The Quality of Physical Education in America.” Journal of Middle School Teachers 220.1 (2012): 10-42. Print.
Erickson, Allen, Christina C. Winters, Josephine Smith and Neri Douglas. “Parachutes, Scooters, and Kites: Examining the Role of Play and Group Activities in Middle-School Physical Education.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychology 10.3 (2009): 66-9. Print.
Mumson, Benjamin, and Josephine Smith. “Teacher-Parent Communications and the Effect On Evaluation and Development of New School Athletic Programs: Getting the Kids Moving.” Journal of American Sports. 2.1 (2011): 50-62. Print.
Utterly, Henry and Graham Finsem. “The Impact of Television, Internet, and Video Games on the Child’s Growing Reluctance to Play Sports.” Technology and Kids 16.4 (2012): 111-23. Print.

Identifying Credible Sources

Once you understand where the sources come from through attributive phrases and in-text citations, you can determine whether the source is credible or not and determine whether it has been used effectively.

Ask yourself these questions of each source:

Was it published in a scholarly journal?

There is an important distinction between a magazine article and a scholarly journal article. Magazine articles are typically written by journalists who write on a variety of topics, meaning that they do research on whatever topicThe subject of a reading. they are writing about much like a student doing an assignment. Scholarly journal articles are written by expertsSomeone who is very knowledgeable about a topic. in a particular field of study, such as professors and PhD candidates at a university, and the journals themselves are called "peer-reviewedWritings that have been evaluated by experts in a subject before they are published. journals." This means that all of the articles and contributions in the journal have been read, assessed, and critiqued by other experts (professors) in the same field of study prior to being published. The process of peer-review is actually quite competitive and rigorous; therefore, you can generally assume a higher degree of credibility from information gathered in peer-review journals than popular magazines or newspaper articles. Typically, peer-reviewed journals can be trusted as reliable sources. The main way peer-reviewed journal articles lose their credibility is if they become out of date, so studies and articles that are more than four years old should be checked for relevance and accuracy.

Who wrote it? What are their credentials, reputations, and institutional affiliations?

Once you have determined where the source comes from and if it is peer-reviewed, take it a step further and look at the writer of the piece. Is this an individual known among his or her academic or professional community? How long has she worked in the field? How many publications does he have? Where does he do his research or studying? Is her work often cited or referenced by other academics, scholars, or practitioners?

Who is the intended audience?

Knowing for whom the author is writing is a good way to evaluate the source. Is it a piece intended for a very specific group of academics studying a narrow topic? For example, an article in the Journal of Nanotechnology about the risks of using gold-coated nanomedicine in infant trials might be appropriate for cancer researchers; however, it likely is not appropriate for a freshman-level English composition paper addressing the general concerns about children being used in medical research.

Are the source's sources credible?

Be sure to read your source carefully and critically assess the writer's source material. You may ask yourself if the writer herself is relying upon peer-reviewed articles or less reliable sources. You will want to look for potential biasesIn writing, bias indicates a writer's personal prejudice for or against an idea, person, activity, or object. Being objective, or displaying no tendency toward a preference, is the opposite of showing bias. and logical fallaciesA mistake in reasoning; faulty thinking that weakens an argument or leads to an incorrect conclusion., as well.

How was the source funded?

How a source is funded can be a potential source of conflict of interest. For example, pharmaceutical companies often commission their own research studies. The success of their product can hinge on the success of these studies and may develop biased interpretations or presentations of research results.

When was the source written? Is it outdated?

As with scholarly journals, any source material that is over four years old begins to lose its credibility. However, in some instances, new research and data is simply unavailable or the findings have not changed significantly. In these instances, it is acceptable for the source material to be over four years old.