Finding credible sources for writing

The Complete Beginners Guide to Credible Writing Sources

Writing pad, pen and computer for writing using a credible source

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“Credible: 1. capable of being believed; believable. 2. worthy of belief or confidence; trustworthy.” ~ Dictionary.com

Recently, in one of my Facebook writing groups, I realized many people including paid freelance writers have no idea what credible writing sources are or how to use them.

Frankly, I was slightly amazed. How do so many writers not know that Wikipedia is not a credible source?

I decided to make it my mission to help my writing peers understand what credible writing sources are and how to use them. After all, first impressions are everything, especially on the Internet, where information overload is a serious problem.

Why I’m qualified to tell you about credible writing sources?

Two years ago, I completed my four-year Bachelor of Science in Internet Technology degree. Over the course of three and a half years, I wrote more than 200 research papers and assignments. I also edited papers for peers in my class.

The one thing all those papers had in common was the ideas required reference to credible sources for proof of validity.

The university taught me what credible writing sources are. And I apply those same learned techniques for finding credible sources in my writing career.

That is why I’m qualified as a credible source for writing this article. Because I have training and practical use knowledge in what a credible source is.

It’s qualifications like these that you look for in deciding if a writer is a credible source of information.

How to prove you are a credible source

People like evidence. They like to know why they should trust you.

Providing your background, experiences, credentials, certifications, published works, training and education are ways to prove how you know what you’re talking about.

Also, avoid being overly opinionated and talking down to your readers. Don’t treat them as idiots, even when teaching a beginner course.

And always check your work for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. Nothing says uneducated like an article full of mistakes!

What is a credible source?

According to the University Writing Center, “credible sources are ones the reader can trust.

Types of Credible Writing Sources:

  • Established experts in your field
  • Unbiased statistics and facts from reputable studies
  • Academic journals
  • Print books
  • Government sources
  • Some print magazines (not popular social topics magazines or gossip rags)
  • Niche leaders
  • Case studies
  • Datasheets
  • Company websites and fact sheets
  • Yourself, if you are an expert in your niche
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • First-hand interviews and studies
  • Libraries

 Questionable Credible Writing Sources

Both print and online newspapers are generally considered credible writing sources but I have my doubts.

Here in the US, many newspapers are very slanted, offering one-sided or opinionated views on political, social and environmental issues. So much so, I no longer consider them unbiased or credible.

If you intend to use a newspaper for a source, I highly recommend reading it closely. If the writing is heavily slanted or only offers one side of the story, use another source.

Also, newspapers and media from countries with government censorship, such as China and Turkey, are not credible sources.

What are not credible writing sources?

Wikipedia is NOT a credible source.

Why not?

Because anyone can alter it.

BUT it is a great place to find a list of credible sources. Just check out the reference list at the bottom of the article, where you’ll find plenty of credible sources.

Other non-credible writing sources you should avoid:

  • Personal blogs (unless the author is writing as an expert in his or her field of expertise)
  • Social media sites
  • Overly biased people or studies
  • Cause-specific sources (overly slanted or only present one side of the story)
  • Historical novels
  • Cherry-picked research facts

How to Determine if a Website is a Credible Source

Anyone can post to the Web. Therefore it is up to you to decide if a website is a credible source or not.

Here’s a checklist for helping determine if a website is credible:

  • Read the About page. Does the author prove how he or she is an expert?
  • Check the date of the material. Newer is always better but it can also depend on the topic niche. Fast changing niches, such as medical, healthcare and technology, have a recommended age of two years or less. Whereas, slowly changing niches, such as history, can include sources up to 10 years old.
  • Who owns or sponsors the site? Is the information biased towards a certain sponsor or owner? Or is the sponsor or owner a reputable company or source?
  • Is the writer trying to present an unbiased or neutral view? Or is it an opinionated piece?
  • Does the author give you facts and figures with links or references back to the source?

For more help on how to decide if a website is credible, read Virginia Montecino’s article Criteria to Evaluate the Credibility of WWW Resources or EasyBib’s Evaluating Sources for Credibility artic

Using your credible writing sources

Always cite and link (if possible) to the original source. People have a tendency to cherry pick the facts and numbers to work for their articles. Going back to the original source provides your readers with unbiased data.

How you choose to cite your source is up to you. I’ve used several ways in this article. Use a name or the title of the publication. Or place a link over a few words. In more factual pieces, the common way to cite is to use both the person’s name and publication title.

Always let people know when you’ve used a direct quote by marking up with quotation marks. Also, include who said the quote or where you copied it from.

Always include links to your sources. Giving credit for where you find your information creates trust with your readers.

The amount of sources you use depends on your topic matter. If you are writing a fact-rich article, using several sources gives your facts validity. A more light piece can get away with less.

How many sources also depend on where you’re publishing the article.  Sites such as Entrepreneur or Time want to see that you did your homework. Back your article up with several credible writing sources before submitting to them.

Creating trust is just one of the reasons for citing sources correctly. The second is to prevent copyright and plagiarism issues. Getting caught doing either of these crimes reduces your trustworthiness. And possibly can cost you ALOT of money if the person pursues damages through the courts.

Now you know what a credible source is and how to evaluate and use credible writing sources in your writing. If you still have questions or want more information on the subject, please feel free to contact me. Or check out The Harvard Guide to Using Sources for an even deeper explanation on credible sources.

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