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THEATRE 321 & 322 : The Theatre ...

Evaluating Sources

In theatre studies, you will encounter sources by scholars, theatre critics, performers and other creators, and members of the general public who have an interest in theatre or its history. As a researcher, it is your responsibility to decide whether the source provides the kind of information that will be useful to you and meaningful to your audience. You need to evaluate the 

  • Author: is this source by an author with authority on the topic (scholars, educated critics, creators)? Are there other people involved in the creation, such as peer reviewers or editors?
  • Audience: who was this created for? Is this going to give you the level of detail and information you need to answer your questions?
  • Purpose: why did the author create this? do they have a specific purpose such as promotion or persuasion that could influence their presentation of the information? Is their focus relevant to the specific questions you have about your topic?

Learning to Evaluate

How do I know if the source is authoritative?

A quick Google search will often give you substantial information about the credentials and experience of the author. Do they have a degree and/or extensive experience in theatre? What else have they written about or created? Have they received any awards or recognition for their work in this area? Are they a good source specifically for the information they are providing?

Primary sources, that document the thoughts and events involved from the point of view of the people involved, have one kind of authority, because the people creating the source are "first hand" witnesses. On the other hand, "secondary sources," created by scholars or others writing about the event from outside it, can have a different kind of authority that comes from being less invested and having access to a range of sources of information. Both can be authoritative sources of different content for your research.

How do I know if other people were involved in reviewing or editing the work?

One easy way to check if a source has had some kind of feedback is to look for the phrase "peer-reviewed" or "scholarly" in the library or database record. This means at least a couple of experts have signed off on the research as reliable and important. You can also look for signs that work has been edited by an expert: an edited volume or periodical with an introduction, a university publisher, or positive reviews in academic journals are all signs that an article, chapter, or book has had to go through a editing and review process where additional experts can weigh in. "Popular" sources like magazines and newspapers can be useful, but some assignments will require that you use sources that have gone through the process of peer-review or scholarly publication.

Scholarly work is likely to indicate that it's part of this conversation through features like citations of other scholarship in footnotes or bibliographies.


How do I know if the purpose of the source is relevant?

Some types of sources are better for answering certain kinds of questions than others. For basic informational questions, an encyclopedia or other reference source might be the most relevant. Are your questions more about creative choices in relatively recent work, and maybe best explained by the creators themselves? Or do you have questions about interpretation or historical context best served by scholarly reading? If you're researching a well-known figure or work, you may find there's much more about that work than you could possibly read, so look for materials that are most relevant to your specific questions.

When you're evaluating the purpose of a source, especially a website or popular publication, look for signs that the author is directly monetizing the content (lots of advertisements, product placement, or association with a paid service), or has a financial or personal investment in the success of their argument.

Having an informed opinion or making an argument in *not* the same as bias. Most scholars, critics, and artists have a purpose in their writing, and are expressing their interpretation or "opinion," but it should be based on strong evidence and reasoning, not pre-decided.

Source Spectrum (activity)

We've learned that different sources are created with different audiences in mind to fulfill different purposes. Taking time to consider a source's author, audience, and purpose will help you understand the information shared in the source and use it appropriately. Complete the activity below to practice differentiating popular and scholarly source types based on their author, audience, and purpose.

1. Review Example Sources

Without reading or watching each source in full, review the 5 source examples below. Make note of details that point to each source's author, audience, and purpose.

Tip: Each example link will open in a new window. Once you've opened all the sources, compare them. What are the similarities and differences in the ways the sources are formatted and made available?

Research Article

News Source 1

Textbook Chapter

News Source 2


2. Complete the Drag-and-drop Source Spectrum Activity

After you've decided where each example source falls on the Source Spectrum, Arrange the source tiles on the spectrum. The more popular a source seems, the further left it goes. The more scholarly a source is, the further right it falls on the spectrum. Once you're satisfied with how you ordered the examples sources from popular to scholarly, check your answer for feedback.

3. Reflect

Discuss or reflect on the following questions:

  • What evidence did you find in the example sources that helped you decide where these sources go on the spectrum?
  • How could you use News Source 2 and the Research article from the examples above in a college-level paper?