Checking your source.

Editor’s note: This is for content writers who typically use information available on the internet in their articles. This is NOT for journalists doing investigative research.

“How do you evaluate if the source you have used in your writing is credible?”

This is one among the numerous questions that Ranjani had asked me when I joined emdash. I had the same doubt for a long time but I never took the effort to find an answer to it. At emdash, you are encouraged to ask questions and you will be questioned as well, but the answers are never given to you on a platter. That is when I realised that I had a lot of learning and unlearning to do before I start to write professionally.

To be a good writer, you should develop the skill to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources. Even reliable sources can be off the mark depending on the context of its use. To make sure you’re quoting the right people in the right context, here are some of the methods the University of Washington Libraries suggest.

Ask the 5W Questions

  • Who is the author?

  • What is the purpose of the content?

  • Where is the content from?

  • Why does this source exist?

  • How does this source compare to others?

Do the SMART check

  • Source: Who or what is the source?

  • Motive: Why are they saying what they’re saying?

  • Authority: Who is saying it? (If the RBI governor is giving updates about vaccination policy, ask this question.)

  • Review: Does anything mentioned have the possibility of being untrue? (Let’s say you’re quoting Nandan Nilekani about privacy concerns around Aadhaar, this is the question to ask.)

  • Two-source test: How does it compare to another source?


  • Currency: Verifying the timeline of the information. (Pre-pandemic data can be misleading in some cases.)

  • Relevance: Identifying the importance of the information for your needs.

  • Authority: Checking the source of the information.

  • Accuracy: Ensuring the truthfulness of the information.

  • Purpose: Understanding why the information exists.

Verifying the reliability of a source is a must if you aspire to produce quality work. You can adopt the ‘SMART’ method or have the ‘oh CRAAP’, ‘I have to get this done!’ attitude while checking the credibility of your source. Either way, it is sure to save you a lot of time!

Written by Serene Anu Philip, with inputs from Ranjani.