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Citation Styles  

This guide contains resources to help you cite your sources using MLA, APA, Chicago, or CSE style.
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Welcome to Geisler Library's Guide to Citation Styles.

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Evaluating Sources

No matter what kind of source (book, journal article, website, etc.) it is important to evaluate your source to determine if it is appropriate for your project. This can be daunting when you are not an expert, but use the SMELL Test to help you. 

Source - Who is providing the information? Can the author or the organization be readily identified and are his/her qualifications for providing the information clearly stated? (For scholarly sources you typically want someone with a PhD in the field of the work.) Is the information timely or too dated? Has the information been reviewed or refereed by other scholars?

When evaluating information sources and their creators, one word that professors and librarians like to use is AUTHORITATIVE. What makes a source more or less authoritative than another one? AUTHORITY is not an all-or-nothing concept; it is constructed (various communities recognize different types of authority) and contextual (information needs may determine the level of authority needed). The PIE Chart (below) helps us consider AUTHORITY in a thoughtful, critical way.

Motivation - Why does the author present this information? To inform, to persuade, to sell something? “Informers” usually can be relied on to have greater accuracy and less bias than “sellers”. Does the author analyze dispassionately or advocate for a particular stance? (Advocacy isn't bad - but you may have to see how others approach the issues.) Who is the audience (scholarly, general, etc.)?

Evidence - What evidence is provided by the author to support her/his claims? Are there notes, data, evidence, and/or a bibliography? Are any assertions made without evidence or examples to back them up?

Logic - Do the facts logically support the conclusions? Are there gaps in explanation or reasoning? Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Left out – What is missing that might change the interpretation? Compare sources to see where there are differences and conflict. Are any of the usual “markers” of scholarly reliability missing? What does it mean if we can’t identify an author or the creator of a resource?





 Proximity - how close is the writer to the point of origin of the information? First-hand observation and original research is "closer" than summary or hearsay.




 Independence - is the source of the information free from commercial or political controls or conflicts of interest?




 Expertise - does the source have the academic, scientific, artistic, or professional background to be an expert on this topic?





Based on: John McManus, “Don’t Be Fooled: Use the SMELL Test To Separate Fact from Fiction Online” Last modified February 7, 2013


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