Reliable Sources

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 1 day
30 minutes to read the lesson
Materials: Arrange with the librarian of your school to hold this class in the library and to have her available to speak to the class about resources to which the students have access.


One significant but sophisticated aspect of doing research is making sure that one’s sources are reliable. While students often focus on finding enough information for a paper, the quality of that information is even more important. This class will be held in the library. Please arrange with the librarian ahead of time for he or she to speak to the class about the resources that are available to the students as they do research about the scientific, economic, and environmental health aspects of power derived from coal, oil, wind, solar, waves, nuclear, and other alternative forms. What databases are at their disposal? Students will develop a list of reliable resources and how to evaluate a source to determine if it contains valid information or is a flimsy article.

Purpose – This is the Explain Lesson. Students will designate the parameters of a reliable source when doing research.

Students will be able to:
1. Use the library resources to find texts containing reliable information.
2. Create a written series of guideline for determining if a source contains valid information.
3. Distinguish between sources of high quality and poor quality and use in preparation of a paper.

Strand 2: Concept 2: Functional Text
PO 3. Analyze the effectiveness of functional text (scientific paper) to achieve its
stated purposes.

Teacher Background
From your own scholarly work at the undergraduate and perhaps graduate level, you should have your personal standards for what constitutes a reliable sources and how to steer away from bogus, inaccurate, or purposefully deceptive sites.

Resource Websites

http://www.assumption.edu/users/lknoles/pagelocatingresources.html (The “Search the Web” section is very helpful.)



1. This class should meet in the library. Arrange with the librarian ahead of time to speak with the class for part of the period about the wide range of resources available to the students as they do research about power derived from coal and oil and alternative sources and about which resources are generally regarded as legitimate academic and/or scholarly sources of information.

2. Before the librarian speaks explain to the students that the purpose of this class is to designate the parameters of a reliable source when doing research. Have them make one list in which they write down the sources that the librarian has available to them. The librarian should probably talk about the EBSCO indices of magazine articles, which is the on-line version of The Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature. Most libraries will have EBSCO or an equivalent database; however, The Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature is still being published and some libraries may have it if their budgets don’t allow for the EBSCO subscription. Another resource that the library may have is SIRS. This is a compilation of articles from legitimate newspapers and magazines arranged by topics, mostly scientific, on a year-to-year basis.

3. Have the students keep a second list in which they note any ways that the librarian tells them that they can distinguish between a reliable source and one that may not be. If the librarian does not go into this second area in detail, encourage the students to ask carefully-thought out questions to elicit this information.

4. After the librarian is finished with his or her presentation, ask the students to get into pairs and to compare their lists plus to brainstorm with each other on how to tell if a source is reliable. For example, how reliable would information be from a person who puts a website up on the Internet in which claims are made with no scientific proof, studies cited, or documented results?

5. At the end of the class hold a discussion with the entire group to pull together all the ideas and information learned from the librarian and formulated by the students on their own. If the librarian has not brought it up, show the students how they can use the works cited or bibliography of a reliable source to find other equally valid sources.

Discuss ways which may be obvious that something is not a quality source. How reliable are web sites? Does the date a book or article is published matter? Is it important for a researcher to be attached to a college or university?

Embedded Assessment
As the students are working, walk around and check their lists. Assess the depth of the students’ involvement with this lesson by the quality and quantity of entries on their lists and how much they participate in the class discussion.


Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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