Evaluating Online Sources

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how the four moves are used to evaluate information

Types of Sources

In the last section, we defined popular sources as articles from magazines and newspapers. As you may have suspected, your research will not just include scholarly and popular articles. Research involves many different kinds of sources, including:

The inside of an opera house.

Figure 1. Attending a live performance of some sort can help you to gain first hand experience with the topic at hand and be a valuable source to your academic paper.

  • Any literary work, including novels, plays, and poems.
  • Breaking news.
  • Diaries.
  • Advertisements.
  • Music and dance performances.
  • Eyewitness accounts, including photographs and recorded interviews.
  • Artworks.
  • Data.
  • Blog entries
  • Artifacts such as tools, clothing, or other objects.
  • Original documents such as tax returns, marriage licenses, and transcripts of trials.
  • Websites.
  • Buildings.
  • Correspondence, including email.
  • Records of organizations and government agencies.

Evaluating Sources

Looking at this list might be a bit overwhelming. How are you supposed to know how to know if, for example, a certain breaking news report is a credible source for your research? In this writing workshop, you’ll practice four moves that help you evaluate sources to determine their credibility:

  • STOP. Think critically. Avoid being too emotionally charged or looking for information that confirms your own biases. Have an open mind to consider new or controversial topics, and seek to understand.
  • INVESTIGATE. Find out who the author is, why they wrote it, etc.
  • FIND BETTER COVERAGE. Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source.
  • TRACE CLAIMS. Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original source

First, let’s look at some examples together. The following links will take you to two sources that focus on the topic of vaccines. Briefly look through them and practice using the four moves:

Try It


Workshop: Evaluating an Online Source

Here’s a claim (two claims, actually) that ran recently in the Washington Post:

“The alcohol industry and some government agencies continue to promote the idea that moderate drinking provides some health benefits. But new research is beginning to call even that long-standing claim into question.”[1]

Reading down further, we find a more specific claim: the medical consensus is that alcohol is a carcinogen (can cause cancer) even at low levels of consumption. Is this true?

Let’s evaluate the claim using the four moves:

  1. STOP: Consider what biases you might bring to this topic, and in 3-5 sentences, reflect on how you can avoid acting on your biases when approaching this source.
  2. INVESTIGATE: Find information about the author, publication, publication date, and genre of the source. Write about these findings in 3-5 sentences.
  3. FIND BETTER COVERAGE: Find other comparable sources that are discussing this topic (1-3 sources). Post a link to each source, along with a 3-5 sentence discussion (per source) of how it compares with your original source.
  4. TRACE CLAIMS: If possible, find the original source of any claims, quotes, or media. Paste links, and discuss any significant findings from this step.

Reflect on your findings. In 3-5 sentences, discuss what the four moves showed you about the credibility, reliability, and relevance of your source. Would it be appropriate to use in a research essay?


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  1. Kindy, Kimberly, and Dan Keating. “For Women, Heavy Drinking Has Been Normalized. That's Dangerous.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Dec. 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/for-women-heavy-drinking-has-been-normalized-thats-dangerous/2016/12/23/0e701120-c381-11e6-9578-0054287507db_story.html.