Finding Reputable Sources: A Guide

Finding reputable sources for college-level writing is imperative and could mean the difference in an outstanding or a poor grade. In the past, a student's only resource was the local or college library. The Internet has opened-up a world of resources, but must be used carefully as a resource tool. Using an unreliable source can ruin and nullify the validity of the content of a paper.


For centuries, students have been schooled superficially in the art of navigating a public or university library. Students have been instructed on how to find the information (in book or periodical form) they need from a card catalog, or, nowadays, from a computer. The introduction of the Internet, with its vast sea of information, changed the way information research is conducted. Massive online library databases have also been built to suit the rise in distance college attendance and the need for technological resources. The Internet and e-libraries are immeasurably valuable resources for critically relevant material. Knowing how to use them as a tool for collegial writing can lead to better grades and a lifelong practice of enhanced information literacy skills.

The Guide

Ask these questions about possible Internet and/or database sources:

  • Does the site author list qualifications? Is the author an authority? Government and university websites are reputable.
  • Does the author cite sources? Are those sources referenced?
  • Does the site or article sound credible? Is the tone authoritative?
  • Is the database article from a peer-reviewed source? This lends credibility.
  • Is the article timely? Was it written in the last 3-5 years? Earlier information may have been disproven or modified.
  • Is the information fair and objective?
  • Does the information validate or refute your understanding of the issue? Can the article be used as evidence in your document?
  • Does the author back-up his or her arguments?
  • Is the website active? Check URL links (Stapleton & Helms-Park, 2006).
  • Was the information retrieved from Wikipedia? This is not a reputable source. Look-up and study any reference material at the bottom of the Wiki page for possible use.


Understanding the difference between authoritative and non-authoritative sources is imperative for the college writer. A paper or document that contains invalid reference material will be dismissed. A reliable source can provide correct and usable information for proving arguments and enhancing the content produced for a paper. A university professor will be looking for the validity of student references. Apply this guide to your referencing practice. Use it as a tool for finding scholarly, relevant material.


Stapleton, P. & Helms-Park, R. (2006). Evaluating web sources in an EAP course: Introducing a multi-trait instrument for feedback and assessment. English for Specific Purposes, 25, 438-455.