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Michigan State University

ISB 202 - 010 Applications of Environmental and Organismal Biology

This course guide is designed to help ISB 202 - 005 students find and use library resources for course assignments. Spring 2020. Dr. John Robinson.

Determining Reliability

When evaluating the reliability of a resource it is important to look at it's authority, accuracy, scope, currency, bias, and style. The following questions can be used as a guide when examining each of these criteria:



  • Who is the author?
  • What is their experience and expertise?
  • What is their affiliation?
  • Can you tell what their purpose is for providing this information?


  • Are sources provided for facts and statistics?
  • Do the sources cited seem correct?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Is the information in agreement with other sources?


  • Is the source considered scholarly or popular?
  • Is there a well-reasoned argument?
  • Is the information one-sided?


  • When was the information created?
  • Have there been any recent updates?
  • How recent are the cited sources?


  • Why was the resource created?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Does the author indicated any conflicts of interest?
  • Is the author trying to sway opinion or promote a product?


  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?
  • Does the source appear professional looking?
  • If there are links, are they broken?
  • Are figures and illustrations easy to read?
  • Is the information well-organized?


Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources

Primary sources are the direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research project. As such, a primary source can be almost anything, depending on the subject and purpose of your research. Be creative in thinking of possible relevant primary sources of information on your topic.

Why Use Primary Sources?

  • A primary source is as close as you can get to the event, person, phenomenon, or other subject of your research.
  • A primary source on its own is likely only a snippet or snapshot of the full picture; thus it is often difficult to interpret on its own.
  • Reference sources and secondary analyses give you a framework for interpreting primary sources.
  • The real work of research is examining primary sources to test the interpretations, analyses, and views you find in reference and secondary sources.
  • Use primary sources to find evidence that challenges these interpretations, or evidence in favor of one scholar's interpretation over that of another; then posit an interpretation of your own, and look for more primary sources for evidence to confirm or refute your thesis.
  • When you present your conclusions, you will have produced another secondary source to aid others in their research.

Types of Primary Sources:

  • Lab reports: experiments, observations, etc.
  • Historical documents: official papers, maps, treaties, etc.
  • First –person accounts: diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews, speeches, etc.
  • Recordings: audio, video, photographic, etc.
  • Artifacts: manufactured items such as clothing, furniture, tools, buildings
  • Newspapers: some types of articles
  • Government publications: statistics, court reports, etc.
  • Internet resources: see, especially, digitized versions of historical documents
  • Manuscript collections: collected writings, notes, letters, and other unpublished works
  • Books: extensive and detailed discussions of a particular topic or set of topics, written by the scholars and researchers who came up with the ideas or discovered the findings

Website Evaluation

Here are three explanatory sites on what makes a website a credible resources.

Michigan State University