Peabody Library Research Channel

Information Evaluation


These strategies will help you look beyond less important surface features of an information source (for example, how professional it looks or if it's a .org) and think more carefully about who is behind the source, their purpose, and how trustworthy and credible they are. The SIFT model (from Mike Caulfield) provides a framework for thinking critically about information:

Could you prove and ask yourself if you know the information source and know anything about the website or the claim's reputation? If not, use the four moves (below) to learn more. If you get overwhelmed during the other moves, pause and remember your original purpose.


Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Do you think this source is worth your time? Could you look at what others have said about the source to help with you these questions? (For example, there are better sources for information about the health benefits/risks of consuming coconut oil than a company that sells health food products. A research study funded by a pharmaceutical company is also suspect.)

Find Better Coverage

Sometimes, knowing about the source is less important and more essential to assessing their claim. Please look for credible sources; could you compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus?

Trace Claims to Original Source

Sometimes, online information is removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported in another online publication, or an image is shared on Twitter) if you need to trace the information back to the source to recontextualize it. 

modified from this source (Andrea Baer and Dan Kipnis, Rown University)

Want to learn more about fact checking and verifying claims? Check out this short, self-paced course, to find out how to fact and source-check (each lesson takes about 30 minutes apiece). The guide below also provides additional guidance.


Evaluating Your Sources

Now that you've found your sources, it's important to review them for quality and determine if they are a good fit for your project or paper.

  1. To review the sources for quality, evaluate the information by investigating where it came from what the source of the information is, verifying claims, and analyzing the context of the information. The SIFT method below (on the left) can help with this.
  2. To review the sources for usefulness, please look at the B.E.A.M. method below (on the right). B.E.A.M. will help you think about how you might use a source in the structure or outline of your paper. It will help you decide if the source fits or needs to choose something better.

It's important to remember that while these strategies are beneficial for analyzing research content, they're also handy for any information needs -- from articles in trade publications to information shared on social media to your research.

Evaluating Sources




I have a list of results.  How do I further narrow that list down to sources I might use?

The best way to do that is to read the whole article or book.  However, during the research process, there isn’t always time to do that.  Whenever possible, you should take advantage of tools such as subject headings/descriptors and abstract.

subject heading (sometimes known as a descriptor) is a standardized term, usually a word or a phrase used to describe what the article or book is about. There are usually several subject headings per book or article. Subject headings exist in order to organize a collection of information. Consider using subject headings you find as search terms.

An abstract is a short summary of what the article or book is about.

Other tools for books you should use are a table of contents and the index once you find the book on shelf.

You've done your search in a database and found a list of articles.  Or you have some book titles to consider.  You now have to decide whether or not these potential sources help you accomplish your purpose.  One way to do that is to see how you might use those sources in your research paper.

The BEAM model below might be helpful. As you examine your results ask yourself, does this source fall into one (or more) of the categories below?

More Details


Background Sources

  • Rely on them for information accepted as unquestionable fact
  • Provide general information to explain a topic
  • Sources to consider: books, encyclopedias (either general or subject-specific), articles.

Exhibit Sources

  • Materials a writer is interpreting or analyzing
  • Used to provide an example of or give evidence for a claim
  • Sources to consider: Depending on your topic and discipline, scholarly books or articles, a film,  novel, a data set, an interview, experimental results, a diary, letters, a work of art, etc.

Argument Sources

  • Information from other authors you are agreeing with, disagreeing with, or building upon
  • Citing them puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic--brings you into the conversation
  • You use your exhibit sources as examples of why you agree with, disagree with, or want to add more to what was claimed in your argument sources
  • Sources to consder: articles, books.

Method Sources

  • Materials an author follows to determine how they are doing their research
  • Sources to consider: Course readings, books, articles, Can include research procedures, theories

Adapted from:

Additional Sources:

Woodward, Kristin M. and Ganski, Kate L., “BEAM Lesson Plan” (2013). UWM Libraries Instructional Materials. Paper 1.

Rubick. Kate. 2014. "Flashlight: Using Bizup's BEAM to Illuminate the Rhetoric of Research." Presentation at Library Instruction West 2014.

Rumble, Juliet, Carter. Toni and Noe, Nancy.  2015. "Teaching Students the 'How' and 'Why' of Source Evaluation: Pedagogies that Empower Communities of Learning and Scholarship." Presentation at 2015 LOEX Conference.

BEAM originally developed by Joseph Bizup.

Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review 27, no. 1 (2008): 72-86. doi:10.1080/07350190701738858

Ethical Research Practices

Start by writing down the stakeholders of your topic.

  1. Who is affected by this topic? Who is writing about it?
    1. Where do these groups overlap? Where are these groups disconnected?
  2. Look at the authors of the sources that you have. Do they represent the groups affected by this topic? Is it essential for you to have representation of all stakeholder groups?
  3. Who is the "expert on this topic?
    1. Are scholars with research experience and degrees the experts?
    2. Are folx with first-hand knowledge the experts?
    3. How can you bring these experts together?
    4. What do each of these voices add?

Created by Ashley Blinstrub, George Mason University,
December 14, 2020

Shantel Gabrieal Buggs, Jennifer Patrice Sims & Rory Kramer (2020) Rejecting white distraction: a critique of the white logic and white methods in academic publishing, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43:8, 1384-1392, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2020.1718728

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow source segment. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing  involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.

Source: Purdue OWL