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College Writing: Official Guide

Strategies for Evaluating Information


How strong is this approach?

How much effort will it take?

What tactics could I use?

Why am I looking for this information?


Easy to moderate

  • Pause and reflect
  • Review the requirements for the task at hand
  • Seek additional information about the task if the requirements are unclear.

How did this come into my life?

Medium to strong

Easy to challenging

  • Pause to acknowledge and check gut feelings about the initial appearance of the source
  • Develop or reflect on a search strategy
  • Go up stream
  • Consider credible recommendations.

Is it easy to investigate?

Medium to strong

Easy to challenging

  • Note whether it is easy to identify the format
  • Check the about page for purpose and process information
  • Check a few referenced sources
  • Perform a few web searches to verify accuracy.

Do I know what this is?

Strong; Weak if asking "How does it look?" instead


  • Pause
  • Look for obvious labels to indicate format
  • Look for other indications of a known format
  • Avoid judgements based on visual features that do not connect to format
  • If no format can be discerned, move on to another cue.

Is this reviewed?

Medium to strong

Easy to challenging

  • Look for labels, such as "peer reviewed"
  • Look up a source in a search engine, library catalog, or in reference sources
  • Check for an about page.

Does the creator know what they're talking about?

Medium to strong

Easy to moderate

  • Look for information about the creator via the source itself
  • Look for information about the creator using an outside reference source or search engine (lateral reading).

Does this information make sense?

Weak, except for subject experts

Often automatic; when mindfully considering, easy to challenging depending on level of subject expertise

  • Pause and consider instinctive judgements
  • If an expert, evaluate content
  • If a non-expert, discard source if obvious poor quality or try another cue if not sure.

Scholarly vs. Popular

Criteria Scholarly Article                                                          Popular Article


Authors are scholars and experts in the field. Authors are always named, and their institutional affiliation is given.    

Authors are staff writers or journalists.


Publishers may be university presses or professional associations. Articles may be edited through the peer-review process by scholars in the same field of study.

Publishers are corporations, working for profit.


Articles are longer with a focus on research projects, methodology and theory. Language is more formal, technical, using discipline specific terminology.


Articles may be shorter with a general focus on the topic and written for news or entertainment value.

Sources Cited


Sources are cited and a bibliography or footnotes provided to document the research.

Sources are not usually cited.


Article may include these sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, and a bibliography.   

Specific format is not followed.


Audience consists of academics, scholars, researchers, and professionals.

Audience is the general public.