Whether it is a book, journal article, eBook, or website, asking yourself a few simple questions about any source of information will help you decide if what you are looking at is authoritative. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself, but the PAARC Test (originally developed by the Meriam Library at the University of California, Chico) can help. Try applying the following criteria:
An authoritative source will have a clear, unbiased reason for existing.
Sources that try to elicit emotional responses, or that are largely based on anecdotes and personal experiences are unreliable. Sources with excessive amounts of ads tend to be less reliable as well as more likely to be biased. Sometimes more research is needed to find out if the author or publisher was paid to support a position, or supports their position based on belief rather than facts or evidence. When looking at websites in particular, check the “About” page of a publisher as well as other sources from the same publisher to determine their goals. Look for other resources by the same author, or other sources on the same topic to determine is your source is biased.
An authoritative source will identify its authors and their credentials.
If no author is named (personal or corporate) and the source isn’t reputable (such as from a university, government, or a well-known publisher/organization) then the source is not reliable and you should look for other sources on your topic. Even if the author is named, check their credentials to see if they are knowledgeable about the topic or experienced in their field. If the information is not provided, then you can search online for more information about the author. Authors that include contact information tend to be more reliable since they can be held accountable for their work, although contact information alone doesn't necessarily guarantee reliability either.
An authoritative source will provide reliable, correct information.
Resources that do not have any references or links are not considered reliable since there is no way to verify the information provided. Even if there are references or links you need to make sure that they lead to legitimate resources (e.g. not dead links for an online source) or other unreliable sources. Additionally, sources that have a lot of errors are not reliable. If you find that the source is suspicious for any reason, find other resources on the same topic to compare information before relying on it.
In addition to being authoritative, a source must also be relevant to your particular needs.
Titles can be misleading, so read sections of your source before deciding if it is relevant and appropriate for your needs. For articles and websites, read the summary, abstract or introduction. For books and eBooks check the table of contents, index or introduction.
The timeliness of the information provided by a source can be very important.
Always check the whole source for the date since the location can vary. Sources that do not have any dates listed tend to be less reliable. With sources that are more than 5 years old, or that do not have dates listed, always check to see if there are more recent sources about your topic and compare them with your initial source to determine if it’s still relevant and appropriate.
If a source passes all the questions listed above, then it should be reliable. If you are trying to evaluate a source, but you’re still not sure that it’s reliable after using this guide, don’t hesitate to ask a librarian for help!