Tests for Non-Peer-Reviewed Sources

1)  Acknowledged authorities are better than self-proclaimed authorities.

2)  Authorities are authoritative only within their fields (i.e., avoid all forms of "famous sports figure testimonials" about issues or products where the figure has no expertise).

3)  First-hand accounts are preferable to those who know only by hear-say, but beware the inaccuracy of "eyewitness accounts of violent or obscure events."

4)  Unbiased and disinterested sources are better than those with ideological biases or those who have opportunities to make money if you believe their opinions.

5) Sources are more likely to be careful and reliable if they have something important to lose if they publish false or misleading information: income, reputations for expertise and honesty, careers.

6)  Public records are preferable to private documents or experience in most cases.  [Can you imagine circumstances in which this is not true?]

7)  References to specific evidence and examples usually indicates greater authority than imprecise generalizations (e.g., "really good").

8)  Recent sources, if they pass the previous tests, usually are preferable to sources of older date.

9)  Sources from mainstream publishers always have to pass tighter editorial checks than those by self-publishing "vanity" publishers, or personal web pages, which are the online equivalent of a piece of paper someone hands you in the street.

10)  Sources who pay careful attention to documentation format and evidence gathering usually are more reliable than those who are careless.  [Think about how this affects your instructors' reading of your own papers.]

11)  Readers usually are more easily persuaded by familiar authorities than strange ones, but writers often have to educate their readers, including introducing them to new, better sources of evidence and reasoning.

Adapted from: Leonard J. Rosen, Decisions: A Writer's Reference, 2nd Ed. (now out of print), N.Y.: Longman, 2002, 163-4.