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The University of Massachusetts Amherst


A guide to resources in Biology at UMass and beyond.

Your Conclusions Are Only As Good As The Sources You Use

Not all sources are created equal! Information is plentiful, and anyone on the Internet can make any claim. Therefore, it is important to check your sources -- because your conclusions are only as good as the sources you use!  Your experimental design is only as good as the data you build it on!

Happily, there are strategies to help you determine if a piece of information you are reading is credible and reliable

Know Your Resource Types

Information will come to you in a variety of formats. Different types of resources have different authority and credibility cues. It is important to know the differences between resource types so that you can make good decisions about which ones to trust and use in your own work.

Check out this beautifully done Infographic (with contextualizing data visualizations!) on some important differences between resource types, such as how much scrutiny they receive before publication, or how long they take to publish.

More detail and more types of sources are described in this table comparing the characteristics, both visible and hidden, of several different resource types: 

Adapted from the Resource Table by Rebecca Reznik-Zellan:
Resource Type E.g. Content Authority Audience Uses Scrutiny Find Them
Scholarly Journals,
Conference Proceedings*
On the cover: The quest towards defeating cancer is shaped by a diversity of approaches,represented by paths converging towards the common goal. The sparse early inroadshave more recently given way to a robust network of strategies uncovering and targetingcancer vulnerabilities, which have been boosted by technological advances, joint effortfrom an expanded research community, and integration of basic and clinical science. Original research conducted by experts in a field;meta-analyses/review articles.
Content is advanced and technical
Peer-reviewed, author's credentials, edited by experts in the field

Scholars, academics, professionals in a field.

Primary research; present research findings, conduct research on a topic

3 – 4 reviewers†

Library databases
- Web of Science
- PubMed
- ScienceDirect
Google Scholar (some)

Trade Magazines*
LifeScience Industry magazine issue 8

Industry developments, news, and standards

Author’s credentials, affiliation of the publisher

Professionals working in a field

Identify trends and stay current in a field

1 – 2 reviewers†

Library databases
- Academic Search Premier
Google (some)

Reference Books*
(Encyclopedias, Wikipedia)

Historical and/or technical overview information on a topic

Author’s credentials, publisher’s credentials


Gather background information, topical overviews

3-5 reviewers†

Library databases
- Access Science
- Encyclopedia of Life Sciences
Wikipedia (some)

(Government, Industry, NGOs)

Summaries of research initiatives or public policy  issues; recommendations

Author’s credentials, gov’t or industry affiliation

Professionals and public officials

Inform development of public policy

1-2 reviewers

Government databases
- Congressional and Research Service Reports
Company websites


News and opinion on current and local/regional events

Written and edited by professional journalists

General public

Follow development of issues, link to other sources, gather background information

Hours - Days;
1 – 2 reviewers†

Library databases
- Academic Search Premier
- Lexis Nexis Uni
Google (some)

Popular Magazines* April 2022

Common interest stories and issues, commentary

Author’s credentials, affiliation of the publisher

General public

Identify popular opinion and trending topics

Hours - Days; 1 – 2 reviewers†

Internet, print magazines

Social Media

Shared information, opinion

None Everyone

Social engagement, information sharing

0 reviewers†

Internet, apps

Data Repositories
figshare logo spiral - store share discover research

Individual or scientific  research data or publicly-funded data


Researchers, professionals, general public

Verify or build on studies, develop tools, share projects


- figshare
- (registry of repositories)

*Accessible through the Libraries    †from Know Your Sources, Portland Community College


Lateral Reading with SIFT

study has shown that factcheckers are REALLY GOOD at determining credibility from clickbait. How do they do it? 

When looking at resources online, such as blogs or videos or news articles, use lateral reading to quickly establish if the source is credible and accurate.


The four moves of SIFT are essentially about RECONTEXTUALIZING what you read online. In doing so, you give yourself enough information to absorb digital content effectively and make informed decisions.

  1. Stop: Do you know the resource or the website it came from? If you aren't familiar with a source and its reputation, this is your cue stop reading and start investigating. Don't share or use a story, until you've learned more about it. 
  2. Investigate the source: Know what you are reading before you read it. Knowing who is writing the work and why they are writing it is critical to your ability to interpret it. Take 60 seconds to determine where the source is coming from before reading further.   
  3. Find Better Coverage: The claim being made is often important than the specific article or video you are using. To verify the claim, step outside of the story you found and look for additional, trusted reporting about the claim from another source(s). 
  4. Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media: Very often information online is taken out of context. Find the original source of any claims, quotes, and media for their original context. 

Source: SIFT (The Four Moves), by Mike Caulfield. June 19, 2019.  

SCARAB Source Evaluation Rubric

Most sources you're going to be using as researchers are scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.  You've had experience with scientific articles, you know that they're different from other types of articles out there - and the table above has laid out many checkable characteristics if you need reminders.  But how does applying SIFT to an academic article work? 

Here is a rubric for aspects to investigate: Substance, Currency, Authority, Relevance, Accuracy, and Bias (SCARAB).
How does the source you're evaluating rank?

SCARAB Source Evaluation Rubric

Rubric from the McHenry County College Library Education Research Guide: Evaluating Sources/SCARAB:

Evaluating Resources Video and Interactive Tutorials

For a deeper dive on evaluating sources and detecting misinformation, below are a selection of brief videos and interactive tutorials that discuss strategies for evaluating resources. Check them out!

Fact-checking resources

These sources can help you verify the truth or falsity of specific claims.

Consider the Science

Once you've evaluated these aspects of the source, there's still the content.  Most of the above steps can take only a few minutes once you get practiced at it.  If a source passes those checks, your next step is the close reading of the source itself.  This is yet another opportunity to evaluate the information you are consuming. 

Remember, original research - even peer-reviewed research - is by definition brand-new information.  How strong is the evidence for the conclusions the researchers draw?  This is an evaluation experienced researchers perform every time they read a source.  You, as students, need to practice to develop this skill.  Try these steps:

  • Method
    • Is it an appropriate choice to answer the research question?
    • Is it a method used in the discipline? 
    • Are you familiar with it or do you need to do some background reading to deeply understand how it works?
  • Figures
    • Are they understandable without also reading paragraphs of the text?
    • Are they in the best scale to convey the information or has that been adjusted to make it look more impressive?
    • Is the format or type of graph a good one to convey this information?  
  • Results = Conclusion?
    • This is one to watch for under Bias.  The methods and analysis can both be strong but be paired with weakly-supported conclusions. 
  • Limitations of study clearly stated
    • No one has enough time or funding to do everything they would like.  Are the authors upfront about the limitations of their study?


Content on this Evaluate Your Sources page is adapted with thanks from the Evaluate Your Sources page of the Information and Computer Sciences research guide by Rebecca Reznik-Zellen at UMass Amherst.