German Studies: Evaluating Sources

A guide to research materials in the areas of Germanic languages and literature.

Evaluating Sources

One Perfect Source

From Idea to Library


Understanding Primary and Secondary Sources

Evaluating Sources

In the research process you will encounter many types of resources, including booksarticles and websites. How do you make sense of what is out there and evaluate its authority and appropriateness for your research?

Criteria for Evaluating Sources


  • Is the name of the author, group, or editor responsible for creating the work clearly displayed?
  • Are the author's credentials provided (e.g., job title, place of work, education and areas of expertise, past experience, list of other publications, etc.)?
  • Is there evidence that the source went through a review process (e.g., Peer review, editorial review, approval by an editorial board, or some other means of quality control)?


  • Can you find a mission statement or an explanation for why this work was published?
  • Does the source seem free of attempts to advertise or to sell a product?
  • Does the source aim to serve an educational purpose that presents information and interpretations objectively?
    • Does the work avoid offering an opinion or attempts to persuade?
    • Does the work avoid attempts to be funny or satirical?
    • Does the work avoid attempts to entertain?

Accuracy and Verifiability

  • Does the work document the sources of the information it presents (e.g., through a bibliography, footnotes, or links to other works and through the inclusions of quotations and summaries of sources in the prose or graphical interface?
  • Is the author's or publisher's contact information clearly listed?
  • Does the source appear to be well-researched and factual, and can you follow the trail of information provided should you choose to do so?

Currency and Relevance

  • Does the source provide a date of publication?
  • Does the date of publication suggest the information is sufficiently current for the topic presented?
  • Are there any indications that the source has been influential (e.g., republished, shared, reviewed, or discussed by others)?

Primary Vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic or question under investigation. They are usually created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. In literature, novels, plays, short stories, poems etc. are considered primary sources.

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss, crtique, or evaluate someone else's original research or writing.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers. 

scholarly journal is one that is published by and for experts. In order to be published in a scholarly journal, an article must first go through the peer review process in which a group of widely acknowledged experts in a field reviews it for content, scholarly soundness and academic value. In most cases, articles in scholarly journals present new, previously un-published research. Scholarly sources will almost always include:

  • Bibliography and footnotes
  • Author's name and academic credentials


Popular magazines range from highly respected publications such as Scientific American and The Atlantic Monthly to general interest newsmagazines like Newsweek and US News & World Report. Articles in these publications tend to be written by staff writers or freelance journalists and are geared towards a general audience. Articles in popular magazines are more likely to be shorter than those in academic journals. While most magazines adhere to editorial standards, articles do not go through a peer review process and rarely contain bibliographic citations.

Evaluating Sources Handout

Proquest Research Companion