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Intermediate Reading Course. Section 4: Reading Critically

Evaluating the Sources When Reading

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Just because something is in writing or published, it does not mean you should believe or accept it as it is. Not all writers and publications provide the same level of accuracy of information.

As a critical reader, you must always evaluate the source.


When you evaluate the source critically, you assess its credibility, reliability or reputability, and bias as well as the writer and the publication. At the end of this lesson, you will learn a series of questions you should ask yourself when checking your sources.

Evaluating the Source

Here are a few things you should do to assess your sources critically.

Credible Sources

A credible (or believable) source or publication is one that you can trust. Scientific journals, for example, examine writers’ work carefully before accepting it for publication. They check the information for accuracy. They make sure research studies were conducted correctly.

Textbooks are less strict about the information they publish. The information in a textbook is usually summarized from other sources so you can learn efficiently. Reading information in the original source is better than reading it in a textbook, but it would take you much longer to learn from the original sources. In general, most publishers are careful not to damage their reputations, so textbooks are generally credible sources.

Depending on the publisher, newspapers may or may not be credible sources. Some newspapers are privately owned, and reporters can be pressured to publish only information that their owners agree with. Online newspapers sometimes use clickbait to get more traffic. As a critical reader, you should consider newspapers carefully to make sure news articles you read are from a credible newspaper.

Anyone can write a blog, so you should be cautious about what you read in blogs to make sure the source is credible. If you know a blog has a history of publishing good, accurate content or that it is published by an expert in the area or a well established organization, a blog article can have more credibility than an article from a heavily biased newspaper.

Writers often cite information to support their claims. When you realize they got the information from a social media post they found online, you should give the information little to no credibility unless you can verify where the information came from.

The main point here is that you should always check the credibility of the source when you read any text.

Reliable Sources

A reliable or reputable source is one that you can trust as being dependable, accurate, and honest. A reliable writer is one whose judgment you trust as well reasoned and unbiased. Both writers and publications can be reliable or unreliable; they can both have a good or bad reputation based on their previous work and publications. As the readers, it is up to you to check your source.

Though that can be time-consuming, sometimes a quick online search on a writer or publication can tell you a lot about the reliability of the source. If it is important enough to learn correct information, the effort is well worth it.

Unbiased Sources

We all have biases based on our experiences and beliefs. Publications such as scientific articles, reputable textbooks and newspapers, and reputable writers make an effort to detect and avoid their own biases while others do not. In fact, some publications and writers have a clear agenda or mission to disseminate information that supports their biases. If they have a positive or negative bias toward a particular topic, they only include positive or negative information about it, accordingly.

If you want to learn unbiased, accurate information about a topic, you must check your sources for bias.

Current and Dated Sources

Knowledge evolves constantly. Some information changes so quickly that what is considered a “fact” today may change tomorrow. If you read an article about the “9 planets in the solar system,” you are reading a dated source. (Pluto used to be considered a planet until the International Astronomical Union, IAU, reclassified it as a “dwarf planet” in 2006.)

Reading dated sources can give you a historical perspective on what knowledge was like in the past. Nonetheless, you want to learn current information rather than dated information, so you should always check the publication date when reading something.

How to Check Your Sources

A short checklist to check your sources

Here are a few things you can ask yourself to check your sources.

Is the author credible and reliable? Who wrote the text? Are they experts in the area? Do they have other publications in the field? Are they reputable?

What is the purpose of the text? Is the purpose of the text to inform or persuade you? Persuasive texts have an agenda, so they may not provide all the information you need to judge the writer’s arguments.

Is the information accurate? Does the text provide supporting evidence? Is the information research based? Is the text based on facts or opinions? Does the text cite other reputable sources? Does it provide statistics, graphs, charts, and so on?

Is the information current? Check the publication date.

If online, what is the domain name? Is the text published on a domain such as “.edu” (educational) or “.gov” (governmental agency)? These sources are likely less biased and more accurate than other domains such as “.com” (commercial) or “.tv” (entertainment).

Is the information supported? Reading on the topic in other sources helps you verify the accuracy of the information. If other, more reputable sources contradict the information you are reading, you should use caution.

Up Next: Evaluating the Evidence When Reading

Go to the next lesson to learn how to evaluate the evidence writers use to support their claims.