There are many ways to evaluate a source but the key to each of them is thinking critically about who wrote the piece, why it was created, what the publication process may have been like to give you clues as to the authority and accuracy, and consider any bias or incentives that may take away from the credibility of the source. Three of the more common methods for evaluating sources are listed in the tabs below: Lateral Reading/SIFT, 5W's and CRAAP.
As you read more literature in the health sciences field, you'll become more familiar with the publications, the authors, and the way scholars and practitioners communicate with one another within their field through publications.
Reading a text in isolation can be dangerous. Thinking about evaluating sources as "good" or "bad" is misleading. There is a lot of grey and information is all about CONTEXT.
The way information is created today is interconnected and complicated; context is the key to understanding the credibility of the source. When you incorporate lateral reading into your process of evaluating a source, it encourages you to dig deeper to see the bigger picture and to wonder about how this source is interconnected with others. When you're properly evaluating a source, you're not just wandering around looking for an article to use for your paper, you're wondering about uncovering any bias within the source and how it fits within context of your knowledge, research, and purpose.
Lateral reading means you spend less time on the source you're thinking of using and more time searching for information about the source. Instead of going to the About Us page of a website to learn about the organization you've never heard of (vertical reading), you'd open up a new tab and search for other sources about the organization, it's founders, and it's reputation (lateral reading).
There are plenty of organizations that have a veneer of authenticity and neutrality as a disguise for advocacy or lobbying and plenty of publishers that have leaning agendas that won't ever run a story that doesn't support the narrative they want to portray. Lateral reading encourages you to ask many of the 5 W's (especially who, what, why) with the underlying goal of discovering "what sort of public memory does this information invoke?". These steps help you understand the context of the source, uncover nuances and subtle signaling that only are revealed through critical thinking.
Instead of asking whether this is a "good source" or a "bad source" ... you're asking "why would I use this source" and making your decision based on the context you've uncovered.
Civic Online Reasoning (n.d.). Curriculum. https://cor.stanford.edu/curriculum/
Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral reading: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Stanford History Education Group Working Paper No. 2017-A1, Oct. 9, 2017.
Stop: Understand who created this information and why
Investigate the Source: Know what you are reading before you read it
Find Better or Other Coverage: Look for other reporting or analysis on the claim
Trace Quotes, Media and Claims to Original Source: Understand the original context
Currency: the timeliness of the information
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
Authority: the source of the information
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
Purpose: the reason the information exists