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Choosing Sources

One of the most difficult tasks in research and writing is choosing the right sources. Often students are asked to look at material critically, but how does one start to look as sources critically?  The following are some guides to how to objectively evaluate material.

Authors | Publishing Houses | Audience | Reviews | Internet Sources


When you choose books to include in your bibliography, you should generally include authors that are respected in their fields. Here are some things you should consider about each author

  • What is the author’s educational background?

  • What is the author’s professional background?

  • Is the author well-published?

  • Is the author a recognized authority in his field?

  • Does the subject he’s writing on fit in to his area of expertise?

This does not mean that certain authors should automatically be chosen or ruled out. Some well-educated authors may not publish worthwhile material, while others like the famous Bible scholar F.F. Bruce do not hold an earned doctorate degree. Perhaps an author may have only published one book, but that book is recognized as one of the most important books on the subject. In other words, the considerations mentioned above are general guidelines, not rigid rules.

Publishing Houses

The publisher of the book and the date of publication are often major factors to consider when choosing resources.

  • Has the book been published by a publishing house or is it self-published? (Generally, most good books are published by recognized publishing houses)

  • Does this publishing company tend to print books for a wide audience or a scholarly audience? For example, Thomas Nelson tends to publish books designed for a wide range of people. In contrast, T&T Clark is a publisher who prints books designed for an academic audience.

  • What is the date of the publication? (Do you need books with more recent information, an historical perspective on the subject or some mixture of both?)

  • Which publishing house printed this book? Be aware of the different denominational and doctrinal perspectives generally represented by different publishers. (see examples as follows.)

These are some examples from our library’s holdings:

Abingdon Cokesbury: United Methodist/Ecumenical

Doubleday: Ecumenical

Augsburg Fortress: Lutheran/Ecumenical

Baker, IVP, Zondervan: Conservative/Evangelical

Broadman and Holman: Baptist

Eerdmans: Moderate/Evangelical

Hendrickson: publishes many theology books from a charismatic perspective

Seabury: Catholic/Ecumenical

Servant/Vine: Catholic

Standard Publishing, College Press: Christian Church/Church of Christ

University Presses are usually more ecumenical in theology

WJKP (Westminster/John Knox Press): Moderate/Ecumenical

Word/Thomas Nelson: Moderate/Evangelical


What group of people is the book designed to reach?

  • Is the book written for the average untrained reader? (e.g. Halley’s Handbook)

  • Is the book written for intermediate to advanced readers? (Intermediate readers would be college and graduate students. Advanced readers would be recognized scholars or professionals.)

  • Does the book treat the subject material on a popular level (few footnotes, if any; more devotional in tone) or does the book treat the material in a scholarly manner (many footnotes; bibliography; more technical in tone).


Have other scholars in the field reviewed the book? (Check ATLA Religion Database or Book Review Digest to find reviews.) If so, has the book been favorably or unfavorably received?

Internet Sources

Here are some guidelines to consider as you evaluate the quality of information you find on World Wide Web pages:


  • Is the author or sponsor a recognized authority on the subject?

  • If you are unfamiliar with the author:

  • Does the site contain information on the author’s professional and educational background? (Information at .edu sites can be either a professor’s or a student’s.)

  • Did you link to the document from a trustworthy link

  • Look at the URL to see where it originates.

  • Look up the author in another search engine.


  • Are there footnotes, a bibliography, or other citations?

  • Does the author’s work show that he has knowledge of the theories, schools of thought, and leading authorities in the field?

  • Is there a copyright notation on the site?

  • Has the site received awards? (e.g. Magellan Four Star reviews, GNN Best of the Net, etc.; Note: some awards are not based on merit.)

  • If the topic discussed is controversial, is the controversial element acknowledged? Does the author show how it fits in the broader area of research in this area?

  • Can the information be verified through the use of primary resources?

  • Has the site been included as a link on other authoritative web sites?


  • Does the document show the date of the studies from which statistical information was drawn?

  • Does the document show when it was last updated? (Note that some people don’t have their documents set to automatically update when modified and forget to do so; however, you can usually tell how current the information is by viewing it.)

  • If there is not a “last date modified” notation, view the directory on which the file resides to check this information.

Notes on Advocacy Pages:

Advocacy Pages are developed by organizations wishing to persuade others to their point of view on certain issues.  Examples include the National Organization for Women and the National Rifle Association.  These sites are wonderful sources of information for persuasive speeches and papers but one should bear in mind that these pages present only one side of the issue.  For balance one should also look at pages developed by advocates of differing opinions on a particular issue.

Here are some tips for evaluating advocacy pages:

  • Is it clear what organization is sponsoring the page?

  • Can the legitimacy of the page be verified? (Postal addresses and e-mail should be included.)

  • Is it the official site of the organization or a homepage of an enthusiastic member?

  • Are the goals of the organization clearly stated on the page or a link to the page?

  • From what sources is the factual information derived? (Government-sponsored versus organization sponsored)

  • Has the content of the page received the official approval of the organization?

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