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Evaluating Your Sources

Tutorial for evaluating source material

Redacted Resources

Redaction is the process of editing documents to merge content together into a single document. It can also refer to the removal of certain pieces of a document for the purposes of privacy and/or security. If the document has been declassified, the redaction process is referred to as "sanitization."

How do you know if a document has been redacted?

In the print environment, documents have been redacted for centuries. The Bible, the world's oldest book, is one example of a text which has undergone numerous, undocumented, alterations. The study of the evolution of the Bible is known as "Redaction Criticism."

In the digital world, it is much easier to record and trace the evolution of information, as well as verify its accuracy.

A reputable online source will always tell you if it has been redacted.

If you'd like to see an example of a redacted document, the FBI maintains a collection of redacted/sanitized documents on its website

Is redacted information considered irretrievable? The following article addresses this question:

Databases and Search Engines

The way a database prioritizes results is evident from the overall layout of your results screen.


Search engines retrieve content based on:

  • Speed

Notice that the speed of retrieval is typically listed at the top of your search results screen.

  • Popularity

A site's traffic, or how many people view the site, determines where that link appears on your list of search results. Sites with higher traffic are closer to the top of the list.

  • Keyword

Search engines may have other search features available, but they are often buried within "Advanced search" or "More" options. These may appear near the search box, but are typically in smaller print and harder to locate.

  • Revenue

Ads appear at the top or in the sidebar of your search results because retailers have paid to place them there. The money from ad revenue helps keep the corporations responsible for the search engine in business.


Search engines link quality with usage. Advanced search settings in some, but not all, search engines may include features which allow you to limit results to scholarly materials, but many quality resources can be left out of a search engine result list if they aren't widely used on other sites. 

Library search engines retrieve content based on:

  • Relevance

Library searches return results listed by relevance unless you choose to list them by another characteristic. An example of this can be found in DragonQuest, the library's database of resources. This tutorial will provide you with guidance for adjusting your search results list.

  • Search Criteria

Library searches allow you to quickly and easily adjust your search to various criteria. While an Advanced Search area is available, users can limit results to a variety of specifications directly in the Find Library Resources box or from the DragonQuest search screen. This tutorial demonstrates that feature.

  • Advanced Search Features

Library searches also enable users to search for a specific set of terms in various fields from the search results screen. Unlike search engines, where these features either require users to know and understand key Boolean search terms and abbreviations, library searches provide easy access to these features using dropdown boxes. This tutorial discusses Boolean search terms in DragonQuest.


Library searches DO NOT filter sources by usage. Library search engines DO allow you to sift content and sort out higher quality resources from the rest, but library resources are vetted for reliability automatically. While the library does contain some non-scholarly sources, there is no doubt that the materials presented through the library are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) resources, where the information is accurate and updated frequently. 

Interested in learning more? Check out the following articles:

You can also find numerous materials in the library (and online) about Search Engine Optimization, to program your own web page to appear sooner in the list of search results in Google and other web browsers. Check out this Research Starter to learn more about this topic.

Assessing Information

Tips to help you quickly identify quality information sources:

  • Recognize that not every search engine contains all information on a topic.
  • Utilize multiple venues of information retrieval for optimal results.
  • Verify source information elsewhere whenever you can.
  • Discuss your findings with others. They may be able to provide additional insights. 
  • Seek out alternate opinions and evaluations of ideas and source materials.
  • Know the difference between a PRIMARY and a SECONDARY source.
    • A primary source provides you with new, original information.
    • A secondary source reiterates information already known, possibly painting it in a different light or applying it to a different problem or solution.
  • Trust your instincts about a source. If you have reservations about it after applying the SCRAAP test, you're likely correct and should look elsewhere to find the information that you need.