Read all five sections of this tutorial from "Credible Sources" through "Validity". This tutorial discusses appropriate questions to ask in order to determine whether a source is credible and reliable. As you read through the tutorial, make a list of important questions to ask. Leave plenty of space between each question. As you proceed, make notes under each question about why that question is important. Also, write down any tips to consider when attempting to answer each question.
If you have a scholarly information source like a monograph or a peer reviewed journal article, you are in luck. When these kinds of information sources are published, they have your needs in mind.
So you know:
Plus, they make it easy to find out:
Here are some types of information sources that are formally published but non-scholarly:
For these kinds of information sources, you will easily be able to find out:
But non-scholarly information sources are not held to the same standards as scholarly ones. There is a whole range, from highly credible to thoroughly disreputable.
You will have to make a judgment based on two things:
It used to be that without the resources of a large organization like a journal or book publisher, it was hard for an author to get their information source out to an audience. So almost all research was done using books and articles (and of course,
primary sources, which were sometimes very hard to get to.)
Now we have the Internet, and if you have a connection, you can make a web page and put whatever you want up there. If you go to college, your college may give you an opportunity to put your papers into an online repository. Organizations and companies of all kinds put many of their documents online - everything from policies and procedures, to data and reports. Ephemera like brochures and pamphlets that used to be throw-away pieces of paper now linger on the web for years after they have gone out of date. Famous authors have blogs, and so do politicians, subject experts, and schoolchildren, and business people trying to make a name for themselves.
All of these things are available to you as information sources. Some of them may be good for research, and many others are not.
Plus the useful informational content is mixed in with content that was made to sell you things, manipulate you into changing your mind or changing your actions, and straight up deceive you.
Long story short, you have to be really careful with information sources that were never formally published. Usually that means "websites," but the same rules apply to: