HSS 521 - Asian History: Evaluating Sources

C.R.I.T.I.C.A.L Method

Information can come from anywhere, anyone, and for any purpose, which means that critical evaluation is an essential part of your research process. The CRITICAL guide helps determine if a source is appropriate and prompt you to think about how your search for, select, and engage you research materials.


  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? Facts can be verified through comparison to several sources. Opinions evolve from the interpretation of facts.
  • Are the author's conclusions or facts supported with references? 
  • Do the authors / sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information within the scope of your topic? Refer back to your research question or central goal.
  • Does it offer new perspectives (e.g., historical, political, cultural, social, racial, gender, sexual)
  • Does it offer different voices, conflicting viewpoints, or other ways of knowing?
  • Please be aware that library collections encompass works that portray offensive perspectives, serving to document them as evidentiary sources and facilitate ongoing critical analysis of the past and present.
  • Why was the source written?
  • Was the author's purpose to inform, persuade, or to refute a particular idea or point of view? 
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
  • Is the date of publication appropriate for your topic?
  • Is currency important or are historical perspectives needed?
  • Does your work need a chronology of events over time?
  • Is it important to include seminal works, regardless of date?
  • Does the source bring an equity lens to the topic?
  • Are aspects of I-EDIAA addressed? (Indigeneity, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Anti-Racism, and Accessibility)
  • Does the author present multiple viewpoints or is it biased?
  • Does the author situate their own positionality? (i.e., their privilege through race, education, income, ability, gender, etc. as a means of framing their research interpretations)
  • Does the source address your topic in depth, only partially, or is it an broad overview? Different levels can be useful.
  • Is the source a useful as a single example or case?
  • Does the source add new information or update other sources?
  • Can the source be cited to substantiate or refute other resources that you have consulted?
  • Consider the author's background, writings, experience, and positionality.
  • There are subject authorities beyond those writing in scholarly journals. For example, Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers are recognized for their expertise.
  • Is the author associated with an organization, institution, cultural, or community group?
  • Who is the publisher? Does it represent the views of specific groups?
  • How is the writing acknowledged by others in the field or community? How do critical reviews rate the work?
  • Are some types of references privileged over others? Does the information draw on collective expertise from a diverse group?
  • Who benefits or is empowered from this perspective?
  • What is the reading and analysis level of the source?
  • Does it align with your knowledge of the subject?
  • What level of evidence is provided in terms of citations or data? 
  • Is the resource intended for the general public, scholars, or professionals?

Historiographical Evaluation

General Source Questions (The Five Ws)

  • Who – Who made the source - did they have an opinion or bias? Were they involved?
  • What – What information does the source give? Is it the full story? Is it accurate?
  • Why – Why was the source made? Was it made to persuade people of a particular opinion? Was it made to take the mickey out of something/someone?
  • When – Was it made at the time? Or years later? Was the person there?
  • Where – Where was the source made? Were they involved in the event? Did they have an opinion?

Questions for Evaluating Secondary Sources

  1. Who is the author (their expertise, previous research, affiliations, positionality, etc.), and what seems to have been their likely intention in writing this?
  2. What is the source's main argument?
  3. When was the source written, and does the date of publication potentially impact upon the source's information or argument?
  4. Who seems to be the intended audience for the source?
  5. How is the source structured?
  6. Does the structure of the source (its various parts, sections, and/or chapters) reinforce its larger argument? How?
  7. What kinds of sources, or examples, does the source offer in support of its argument, and which are most (and least) effective? Why?
  8. Does the source engage other writers' works on the same subject and, even if not, how would you position the source in relation to other texts you are aware of on the same subject (texts you have read for class, for example)?
  9. What bias is present in the author's argument? What facts do they assume you (the reader) already know? What perspectives or ideologies do they seem to assume you share or agree with? Are they writing as cultural insider or outsider? Does the author or their argument seem prejudiced in anyway, for instance:
    • does the author uses inflammatory language: in the most extreme cases, racial epithets, slurs, etc.;
    • does the author consistently makes claims whose larger purpose is to elevate (or demean) one social, ethnic, national, religious, or gender group as compared to another, or all others;
    • does the author consciously presents evidence that serves to tell only one side of an event or issue, purposefully withholding or ignoring information that may shed the opposing view in a more positive light;
    • does the author manufactures, falsifies and/or dishonestly cites evidence in order to present his or her case in a more positive light.
    • and if so, is that prejudice the product of the author's own background, ideology, research agenda, etc. as far as you can tell?
  10. How persuasive is the source (if certain aspects are more persuasive than others, explain why)