Determining good sources from bad sources is an important skill for a researcher at any level to have.
The reason for this is very simple: Bad sources often provide incorrect or incomplete information. Incorrect or incomplete information invalidates any conclusions that might be drawn from the paper or work in it. This means that, with bad sources, the research is wasted.
While the importance of finding good sources is easy to understand, it’s something that is much harder to do in practice than in theory. With most research taking place on the internet, there’s a very serious problem with fake news and misinformation that risks working its way into your research.
As such, the most important thing for any researcher to do is to think critically about their sources. Treat every source as if it has the potential to either be intentionally misleading or accidentally wrong. Even the best sources can have incorrect or outdated information.
That means one of the most important things to do is verify the information, especially if it is critical to your research. Look for the same facts and information in other sources and specifically seek out sources that are diverse politically, philosophically, etc. Make sure that the sources are doing original reporting, not merely repeating what others have said, and there is no contradictory information.
But, while thinking critically about your sources is the most important thing you can do, there are several other steps that can help you find high quality sources for your research.
1: Favor Primary Sources
Primary sources, such as original research, news articles from the time an event took place, eyewitness accounts, etc. are generally better and considered better quality than sources that are reporting based on those primary sources.
For example, rather than trusting a news article about a new study, look at the study itself. Every step away from the primary source is another opportunity for bias and misinformation to creep in.
2: Stick to Major Publications
Check the URL of the site and make sure that you are getting your information from a reputable publisher. There are many sites on the internet that will disguise themselves to appear more legitimate than they are or to even mimic better-known sources. Look at the URL, visit the site’s home page, investigate the source thoroughly.
If all else fails, do a search for the source’s name and see what others have to say about it.
3: Speak with a Librarian
If you have questions about the veracity of a source, simply speak with a librarian. Even if a source is accurate and has good information, it may still not be appropriate for research use due to bias or other issues.
Your librarian can help you parse which sources are appropriate for your work and which you should ignore.
All in all, finding a good source for your research is more about thinking critically about your sources and demanding evidence for all of the claims you are seeing. This isn’t just a big part of finding a good resource, it’s also the process through which research itself is conducted.
Thinking critically about your sources won’t just help you write a better paper, it will make you a better researcher and thinker overall.