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Library Home » Articles & Guides » The Four Ws of Evaluating Information Sources: History

The Four Ws of Evaluating Information Sources: History

Who: Who is the author or organization responsible for the content? Authors should have education or experience related to the subject of the source.


Sources published by organizations (such as universities, archives, or government agencies), are credible if the organization responsible for the source is well respected among historians or librarians or if archivists staff the organization. To learn more about this type of source, click here.

Are the authors qualified to write on this subject? Why or why not?

Journals of the Continental Congress Franklin's Articles of Confederation; July 21, 1775
Eighth United States Army
Christine's Genealogy Web Site

What: What references or documentation are provided?

For primary sources, the authenticity of the source should be verifiable.

For secondary sources, a bibliography or list of works cited should be available or sources of the information should be fully cited in the text.

To read about the difference between primary sources and secondary sources, click here.

Are these primary or secondary sources? Why?

Blanding Tunnel Project
Civil War Treasures
The Forgotten DMZ
When: How old is the information?

The age of the information should be appropriate for the topic.

Current information and statistics should be updated within the past year.

Historical sources do not need to be updated unless new data is discovered.

What kind of research questions could you answer using these sources?
Are these resources reliable?

Immigrants and Literacy
United States Population Pyramids
Why: Why was the information published?

Question the reliability of information if the author or sponsor attempts to convince readers to:
  • support a political agenda
  • adopt a point-of-view
  • purchase a product or spend money
  • financially support a cause
Scholarly resources should acknowledge multiple perspectives or points of view.

While the author may support one position, the existence of other viewpoints should be mentioned.

Do these resources present multiple points of view?
Would you use them in a research project? Why or why not?

Presidential Campaigns and Candidates
When Black is Burned: The Treatment of African-American Soldiers During the Korean War


All quoted material is from the respective source.

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