It's important to evaluate your sources and not just choose the first ones that you happen upon because that's the easy thing to do. When selecting the best sources for your need, consider audience, authority, objectivity, accuracy, currency, and ask the questions listed below:
Who is the source's intended audience? Who is the writing, and research geared to? Is it relevant for your assignment or research?
Is the author identified? If not, that could be a red flag. Is the author an expert in their field? Are they qualified to write on the subject? Is the author affiliated to an academic institution or credible organization?
If the information is part of a journal or other online publication: Is the name of the publication easy to find? Do you recognize the name of the publisher? Does it look like a professional publication?
Does the author present objective arguments or make it clear when they are expressing biased opinions? Is it a personal website? Does it express personal opinions? This is a red flag.
Is it free from spelling errors? Is the text well-written and grammatically correct? Has the content been through an editing process or been peer reviewed? Has the author included a bibliography or any references? Are research methods explained?
Can you tell when the information was published? Is the information up to date and (for websites) how frequently is it updated?
If your source is a website, look at the URL. The domain name can help you establish if the information has been published by a credible source. Domain names for credible sources usually end in .gov, .edu, or .org.
An easy way to remember the criteria for evaluating sources is to use a mnemonic device, such as the SMART acronym: Source, Motivation, Accuracy, Relevance, and Timeliness. To learn more about the SMART method of evaluation, see the worksheet (below):