Citing & Evaluating Sources

Citing and evaluating the information we find is an important part of research. Evaluating your sources helps you determine what information is relevant and appropriate to your project or paper; citing your sources helps you avoid plagiarism and gives credit to those whose ideas you are writing about or expanding upon.

How to Cite Your Sources How to Evaluate Your Sources

Citing Your Sources

Citations, or references, are special forms of notation that refer to published or unpublished sources.

Whenever you refer to or quote from someone else’s ideas or words in your own work, you need to indicate where you got this information. You make this indication by including citations in your papers, presentations, websites, etc. Citations are necessary because:

  • They demonstrate that you’ve done proper research.
  • They give credit by acknowledging the ideas of other researchers, authors, and creators.
  • They allow readers to track and refer to your sources.
  • They avoid plagiarism by properly crediting and quoting others’ works.

Learn more:

What to Cite Citation Elements Citation Styles Compared

Annotated bibliographies contain short descriptions and evaluations of the sources you find related to a particular project or paper. The point of an annotated bibliography is to tell the story of your research. It’s a way to prove that you’ve read and thought critically about the information you’ve encountered, and to help your readers quickly learn about sources that are important to a particular topic.

There are three basic steps to writing annotations:

  1. Cite the source, following the usual guidelines for whatever citation style you’re using.
  2. Summarize the source. Give a brief overview of its main ideas and purpose.
  3. Evaluate the source, and briefly discuss its significance to your topic.

Check out our How To Guide: How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Evaluating Your Sources

There are four basic steps to evaluating your sources:

  1. Think about what you already know about your topic and about the source in front of you.
    • Are you already familiar with the author, publication, or website? What’s their reputation?
  2. Learn about the source itself (especially if you’re not familiar with it). Who wrote it? Who published it? Did it have any kind of editorial or review process? What’s the source’s purpose?
  3. Determine how this source compares to other sources you’ve found on the topic (and if you don’t have other sources yet, go find some).
    • Does this source agree with other sources? Or does it present a controversial point of view?
  4. Track down the source’s sources. Who and what are they citing? Are they representing information from others accurately and fairly?

Check out our How To Guide: How to Evaluate Your Sources

Government Documents

Governments produce a wide range of publications that are meant both for technical experts and the general public. In general, technical data, department research reports, statistics, etc, are not peer-reviewed, but can be treated as authoritative information. Other government publications, like white papers and briefing notes are aimed at a general audience and are not considered to be scholarly. It is up to you to assess whether the government document is appropriate source material for your research.

Conference Proceedings

Conference proceedings present papers and presentations given at conferences. There is frequently confusion over this type of resource because they may appear in academic journals. Some conference proceedings are peer-reviewed while others are not. It is important to check if the research presented at a conference has gone on to be published, revised, or abandoned. You can check if the research is scholarly by looking at the publisher’s website or the conference website. If it is unclear please check with your instructor or a librarian.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are reviewed by advisers and faculty. But, they are not all subject to a peer-review process. Check the actual document to see if it mentions peer-review. You may also check the associated department website to see if the that particular university implements peer-review for its theses and dissertations.


Scholarly research is not only published in academic journals. Books that are published by university presses and educational or science units of commercial publishers may also be scholarly. To determine if a book has been peer-reviewed check the information about the editorial board which should be included either in the book or on the publisher’s website.


Databases are the primary way to search for scholarly journal publishing. However, many databases contain information that is not scholarly in nature. When you search you may receive newspaper articles, conference proceedings, videos, etc.

Most databases allow you to limit your results to only items that are peer-reviewed. Check to see if there is a place to select “peer-reviewed” on either the search page or the results page. Please be aware that limiting to peer-review is not available in every database. Additionally, do not become reliant on the peer-review checkbox. It is up to you to determine if a resource is suitable for your research.

Library Catalog

The library catalog is your access point for conducting research through the UJ library. The catalog allows you to search for online journal articles, books, eBooks, newspapers, and more. When searching under Everything or Articles & more, the catalog lets you filter your results to “Peer-reviewed journals.” Always verify by assessing the resource if it is actually scholarly and/or appropriate for your research.

Have questions? Ask us!

Amanda Walch

  • Reference and Instruction Librarian
  • Assistant Professor