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FS 121 - Tolkien and Lord of the Rings: Evaluate your sources

Choose appropriate sources:

When choosing sources for your research, use the criteria below to determine which sources are good enough to make the CUT!


  • When was the information published, posted, or revised?
  • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?


  • Does the source help you understand the problem/issue you are researching?
  • Does it contain information that will help you build an argument?
  • Who is the intended audience? (Is the source too basic or too advanced for your needs?)


  • Who is the author/publisher/source? Are they qualified to write on the topic?
  • Do you agree with the way the author drew his/her conclusions?
  • Does the author cite their sources?
  • Characteristics such as writing style, vocabulary, and motive can also help you judge trustworthiness -- see the table below for details.


Characteristics of scholarly sources:

Scholarly sources are also referred to as peer-reviewed sources, refereed sources, academic sources, or scientific sources. Here are some important characteristics of scholarly sources:

Writing style: Objective, neutral, and factual.
Motive: To inform. Conclusions are supported by facts and by references to other scholarly publications.
Vocabulary: Usually highly technical and discipline-specific.
Authors: Authors are named in the publication, and their affiliations and contact information are provided. Authors are usually affiliated with research or academic institutions where an advanced degree (such as a PhD) is required for employment.
Editorial process: Content is vetted through a peer-review process -- before publication -- to ensure accuracy and trustworthyness.
Trustworthyness: Because of the characteristics above, scholarly sources are likely to be trustworthy and accurate sources of information.

Characteristics of popular sources:

Information that comes from sources directed at the general public are called popular sources and include publications such as magazines articles, newspaper articles, popular books, websites, etc. Here are some characteristics:

Writing style: Sometimes objective, neutral, and factual, but also sometimes sensationalized or dramatized to catch your attention or play on your fears or emotions.
Motive: Often to inform -- but sometimes to persuade, to make you feel emotional about an issue, to sell a product or advertising space, etc.
Vocabulary: Simple and easily understood by the general public.
Authors: Authors are not always named. Authors of popular works may not have any particular expertise on the topic they are writing about.
Editorial process: Content may be edited for grammar and style, and content may be fact-checked, but content is not put through a peer-review process.
Trustworthyness: Because of the characteristics above, you should be cautious of the trustworthyness of popular sources.