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How to find credible sources

The need to cite credible sources in all writings, including academic research papers, can never be overemphasized. Credibility ensures that the information/data contained in a research paper is authoritative and acceptable. It also helps to limit any literary criticisms about the paper. In these days of the internet where many questionable sources exist, it is absolutely necessary to meticulously cross-check all sources to make sure they are credible before including them in your paper. Failure to do so can undermine such a paper.

But what exactly is credibility? 

A paper’s sources (and the paper itself) are considered credible if they are accurate and unbiased and therefore trustworthy. Credibility is an important ethical principle in education because it helps ensure that academic research is relevant and accepted by the wider society. There are a number of things to consider when trying to find credible sources for your writing. Some of them are discussed below.

Discuss credibility with others

The modus operandi for research papers varies across the various fields or disciplines of knowledge. Thus, even though the word credibility is not difficult to understand, it is necessary to have interactions with influential sources in your educational field. Hearing from people like professors and senior colleagues in your area of specialization can help you to ascertain the interpretation of what is considered a credible source in the context of your discipline. If you are writing a thesis, for example, be sure to discuss at length with your supervisor about what constitutes a credible source and vice-versa. This will enable you to know exactly what to look out for, narrow down your search for sources, and potentially save you time, energy, and money. For example, a source like Wikipedia can be a valuable resource for researchers, but several scholarly papers do not accept Wikipedia citations due to questions about its credibility.

Look out for authoritative sources

Whether you are hunting for sources on the internet or in a university library, you need to prioritize authoritative and influential sources in your field. In any particular discipline, an authoritative source is one that is widely recognized as valid, consistent, and reliable by experts in that discipline. They are largely regarded as authorities because over time, they’ve become associated with original, excellent research and analysis. The more authoritative sources you cite in your writing, the more credible the writing is. This is why many websites usually link to other sites considered as authority sites. Authoritative sources can come in different varieties. These include international organizations (e.g., the United Nations Organisation), government institutions (such as national statistics bureaus/offices), educational institutions (such as Cambridge University).

Cross-check all information/data

To determine the credibility of a source requires a thorough cross-checking of all information/data from such sources, especially the information/data you wish to borrow from them. Hence, whether a source is authoritative or not, you should try to corroborate or authenticate whatever you seek to cite from it with those of other sources. The more corroborative sources you identify for a potential citation, the more certain that the citation is credible. Note that findings from new, original research may not be available elsewhere and therefore may not be possible to corroborate. The only way to determine credibility in such scenarios will be to replicate the research using the same data and (similar) procedures.  However, certain types of research may be too large or complex for a lone researcher to undertake just to ascertain credibility. This is one of the reasons for relying on authoritative sources whose findings are likely to be valid, consistent, and reliable.

How current is the source?

Research is usually innovational in nature, trying to address issues and problems arising in a particular period. While it is not wrong to include old citations in a paper, care should be taken to ensure that most of your sources are recent (as close to the year of the paper as possible). This condition is necessary for many higher institutions and not so necessary for others. Citing contemporary or current sources, including research findings, helps in the articulation of current information including the latest scientific and technological possibilities in any particular field.  Research papers that consciously cite current sources are also good precursors for future research.  

Is it really relevant to your paper?

Credibility can also border on relevance. The logic here is that synthesizing pieces of information from only the most relevant sources also enhances the credibility of a research paper (provided such information is trusted). For instance, where all the sources are trusted, the most credible will be the one seen as most ideal, whether authoritative or not. However, determining which is the most relevant source to select can be discretionary or subjective. This means that a researcher can commit bias by selecting a source he or she likes instead of one that is most suitable for the context.

It must not be a popular source

All sources may be equal but some are “more equal” than others. While some sources attract few or even no citations, others are very popular and have been cited thousands of times. Though popular citations are usually credible, this does not imply that sources with few citations are less so. As noted above, the researcher must ensure that whatever (credible) sources he or she decides to include are apt for the situation.

Is the source professionally written?

A professionally written paper must be logically well organized, free of typing errors, and analyze in-depth. Bear in mind that readers of your paper will likely refer to some if not all of your cited sources. Credibility can be eroded if a source cannot stand literary criticism for instance in terms of grammatical construction, plagiarism, logical contradictions, and others. 


Credibility is an important consideration when trying to find sources for writings such as research papers.  Working with credible sources is a necessary condition for describing a paper as well researched. Most importantly credibility in education (and in other spheres) leads to the acceptance of academic papers by society as a whole.

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