Combining the Factors
Once you’ve considered each factor used in evaluating a source, it’s important to take a look at the inferences you made about them. Now is the time to look at those grades all together—to average them if you’ve been assigning grades—and to make one more inference.
Taking the grade on each factor into account, can you infer that the source is credible enough for your purpose? If it isn’t, this is one source that can’t be helpful in your project. If it is relevant and credible enough, you can use information from that resource with confidence.
Making the Final Inference
Assume you’re writing a term paper and are considering using information from Site XYZ. You ran through the evaluation process as you looked over the site, and you made notes about the grades you assigned.
The grades you gave individual factors are:
- Neighborhood: A
- Author/publisher’s background: B
- Degree of bias: A
- Recognition from others: No Evidence
- Thoroughness: C
- Currency of the content: A
You average the grades (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0), remembering not to include the factor on which you gave no grade. The score was 3.4, about a B, which is a “Good, but could be better” score on the scale we used in this tutorial. You decide to use information from this site in your project.
- A – Very Acceptable
- B – Good, but could be better
- C – OK in a pinch
- D – Marginal
- F – Unacceptable
When Should You Stop?
Research shows that students often don’t know when they should stop trying to find and evaluate sources for a particular project. How many sources are enough? It’s hard to say, exactly. But you’ll need enough to meet the information needs of your project and to meet the requirements your professor told you about.
Furthermore, you may change your mind as you continue working on your project. There is probably not a researcher alive who hasn’t thought he or she had enough relevant and sources, only to change their mind later when they were actually writing the final product.
The Sources Checklist here may help you decide what you have enough of and to keep track of needs yet to be met. If you need to, you can use it multiple times as you work on the same project.