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Research Tips & Peer Reviewed Articles: Evaluating Your sources

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5 Basic Criteria

Here is a brief recap of the standard criteria for evaluating reference resources:

Accuracy:  How accurate is the information?  Are there any obvious typos?  From what you know of the topic, does it sound reasonable?  (If you are dealing with a topic that is new to you, try looking for verification in other reference sources.)

Authority:  Who is the author?  Is it a person or an organization?  Look carefully for info about the personal author, if there is one. Does the source give a list of the author’s credentials?   Is it likely that they know what they are talking about? 

Objectivity:  What is the purpose of the publication?  To inform, to persuade, to entertain?  Is there obvious bias?  If so, does the author admit to it or try to hide it?

Currency:  This is a little easier to determine.  Look for a copyright date, magazine issue date, or “last updated” date. 

Coverage:  Here you can ask how thoroughly the publication covers its subject.  Is it too general or too specific?  As far as you can tell, is anything left out? 

Remember that you need to look carefully at ANY information source that you come upon in your research.  It doesn’t matter whether it is printed or electronic, a book, a magazine article, a DVD, or a database.  What does matter is that you need to see the complete item in order to make an accurate evaluation.  For example, the abstract of a magazine article or a journal article, or the synopsis of a book, is not enough. It does not give you enough information to work with.

This is not as difficult as it may sound.  You “evaluate” every time you question a news story or scan the magazines at the grocery store.  The five criteria are just a more formal way to think about this.

But what if you are not familiar the subject of a book, or have never heard of an author?  Look for verification in another source.  Look up other books on the same subject and compare the coverage.  Look to see if the author has published anything else, or if other writers have commented on his or her work. 

Another way to find good resources is to follow the suggestions of sources that you trust.   Look and see who the authors put in their list of sources.  Books and journal articles often include bibliographies, and websites include links.  Checking them out is a good way to expand your search.

Evaluating Internet Resources

Let’s take a more detailed look at what you might find on the internet.  You probably know that websites provide a vast amount of information, some of it really good, some of it really bad, and a lot that is in between.  One of the more valuable services libraries can provide for their patrons is to help them understand what is useful and what is not.

Treat web resources the same as any others in your library.  Ask the same basic questions:

  • Is this the right resource for this question?
  • Is the cost reasonable?
  • Is this source current?
  • What are the qualifications of the authors?
  • Is this information appropriate and/or up-to-date?
  • What is the bias in this information?

Accuracy

  • Anyone can create a web page
  • No fact checkers are at work much of the time
  • Standards have not been, are not likely to be developed


‚Äč‚ÄčAuthority

  • Authorship may be stated or may not be
  • Qualifications often are not listed
  • Responsibility of publisher not clear
  • Some online articles are broken into several screens. Sometimes useful details are on the last screen of the article.

Objectivity

  • Are goals/objectives of source stated or apparent?
  • WWW can have a soapbox function

Currency

  • Many dates not included
  • Dates can mean different things—when information was first written, placed on the web, or revised

Coverage

  • Extent of coverage often hard to determine

 

Other issues to consider in looking at WWW resources include:

  • Marketing vs. Information—is the source the same?
  • Infomercials—good or bad?
  • Links to other sites—Are they maintained and checked?
  • Is censorship an issue?
  • Alteration of information—can things be tampered with?

 

How do you apply these criteria while browsing the Internet?

 

  • Identify the type of page you are looking at
  • Use the broad areas on the checklist to look at the site
  • Take your time
  • Use these sources as one of many resources in your library—rarely, if ever, is there a reason to only use Internet resources, excluding other authoritative resources

Remember…

 

            Researchers need a variety of resources, print and non-print

            Technology is going too fast for formal standards most of the time

            Evaluation is a constant and changing process.  Develop a feel for it.         

 

Fact Checking Websites & Resources

Fake News: Streaming Video