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Social Work

Questions to ask

Evaluating sources is a complex process that can't fit easily into a chart or a checklist. However, knowing some frameworks that you can pull from can be helpful. Explore the tabs below to identify different strategies for evaluating the literature you find.

The IF I APPLY(D) framework below is a particularly helpful one as it asks us as searchers to critically reflect on our own biases in how we are searching for information. Are we being open and curious to what possible answers exist, or are we confirming what we already believe?

As you search and review search results, asking yourself a few quick questions about the sources you are finding can help you quickly determine if it's worth taking it to the next step. And by reflecting on our own biases we can better adjust our search strategies going forward to ensure we are finding the best possible information for the question at hand.

The Personal Steps

I - Identify
Do you have any emotions around this topic? What identities are affected by this topic and should be represented in the research?

F - Find
What sources will provide overviews of the topic? Find various sources to see different perspectives on the issue


I - Intellectual Courage
Am I looking outside my comfort zone to find the best information? If not, what can I do to help myself find those sources?

Are any new or unexpected aspects emerging related to my topic that may need to be explored?


The Source Steps

A - Authority
What authority or expertise does this author have to write about this topic?

P - Purpose/POV
What agenda might the author or publisher have? Who was it written for? Who published it?

P - Pertinence
How relevant is this source to your information needs?

L - List of Sources
Do they have citations? Are they accessible and reliable?

Y - Year
How does the year affect the information?

D - Data

If data was presented, does it support the author's claim? Are there any noticeable methodological issues?


Framework adapted from Phillips, K. (2019). IF I APPLY. Retrieved from


Once we have started to collect some information that looks reliable and relevant to our needs, we can conduct more robust evaluations of the content itself.

As we discussed previously, each section of a research article serves a distinct purpose in contextualizing and detailing the author's objectives. Asking yourself these questions in each section can better help you understand, evaluate, and later summarize the information you read!


A Source Matrix can be a helpful tool in taking all the work you've done so far in evaluating your sources and start bringing it all together. Keeping track of all your sources, with their conclusions, limitations, and questions, in one document can help you keep organized as well as better identify themes for your literature review.

**There are plenty of credible sources that are not peer-reviewed (i.e. books, newspapers, government studies, trade journals, etc). Peer-review can be a great indicator of a valid scholarly source, but it is not the only one. Use your own critical thinking and evaluative skills to determine if a source is accurate and relevant to your research. You can also talk with your librarian or your professor if you are still unsure.**

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