Evaluating sources

In order to persuade your reader of your position, your writing needs to incorporate evidence and sources. Most of the sources you use in your assessments should be credible and academic, such as peer reviewed journals and scholarly texts.

Key points

  • Sources come in many forms. Your task as a student academic is to develop your skills in finding and evaluating sources.
  • Use ANU Library's SuperSearch to help you find reliable sources like peer reviewed journal articles and books.
  • Use Wikipedia to gain an overview of the topic, but don't cite it unless you can demonstrate that it is the only authoritative source on a particular issue.

There may be times when you need to use a variety of other sources to gather information, evidence and examples. These may include government and company reports, newspaper articles, or interviews. When you begin your research, you may need to refer to more general sources. The ANU Library has training and resources to assist you in developing your research skills on their Finding academic resources with ease page.

How to evaluate sources?

Not all research is of equal quality or value. You need to be selective and evaluate what you read, particularly in regard to online research material as it is generally less regulated than printed material. The following are a few points that you might like to keep in mind to help you find good sources. More information can be found at the ANU Library's Evaluating Sources site.


What is the purpose of the writing and who is its intended audience? Are these made clear? Are facts and arguments for both sides shown?


When was it written? When was the last time it was updated and how often is it updated? Is the information current enough for your topic?


Is it an individual, organisation or institution that has some credibility and authority? If so, how is this demonstrated? For example, do you know something of the author's background, and is the author well-known or referred to by others? Is the information peer-reviewed?


How likely is it that the information will be traceable in some form, in the future? Is the information 'published' as an electronic book or journal, or affiliated to a major organisation or institution?


Is the source primary or secondary? Is it original information or taken from another source? 

Primary sources can include original documents such as speeches, interviews, letters, blogs, emails, interviews, news film footage or creative works such as art, novels, scripts, and poetry.

Secondary sources can include material that interprets and analyses primary sources. Examples include textbooks, journal articles, and government reports.

Lecture notes

You should avoid using lecture notes as sources in your assignments. Lectures are designed to provide an overview of the topic and to prompt you to research the topic further. Usually a lecture provides a summary of scholars' ideas from the relevant literature. To show that you understand the topic in depth, you need to use the relevant literature as your sources, not your lecture notes.

Occasionally lecturers may talk about their own preliminary research and ideas within a lecture. If you want to use this information, first do some research of your own to see if your lecturer has published on the topic. If they have not, and you want to use their ideas within your work, check with them first to see if they think it is acceptable.


Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia where information is contributed by its users. This means that the entries are always being changed. The value of Wikipedia is that:

  • it is freely available
  • some entries can be the most up-to date available, especially on esoteric or obscure issues
  • there is a history of discussion on some topics which allows you to see how contributors arrive at particular points of view.

Generally, however, you should not cite Wikipedia in your assignments as it has limited authority as a primary research source. Wikipedia articles:

  • are not necessarily written by experts in the field
  • can be heavily biased
  • can contain misinformation and errors
  • is not selective in terms of what is or isn't included in an entry
  • has not been through a rigorous scholarly review process like a journal article or book chapter.

Wikipedia is therefore not a reliable source of information. If used, it is recommended that you use it only to gain background information, then search out more relevant, reliable and scholarly sources.

Nonetheless, there are some cases where you might cite Wikipedia if it is the only available authoritative source. Sometimes Wikipedia may have the only available account of a new or rapidly changing phenomenon. It might also offer information that is potentially authoritative. In these situations, you need to establish the information's authority by testing it against other reliable sources. You should also explain to your reader why Wikipedia is authoritative in such cases.


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