Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evaluating Sources

Having found a bunch of information sources you need to select those that best meet your needs. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you scan your results:

  • Who is the author (or authors)? Hopefully there will be a statement about the author at the end of the article, book, or web page. In many databases you can quickly search to see what else they have written. If you need to, can you quote the author as an expert?
  • Who is the publisher, and what are their standards for publication? Publishers of scholarly journals rely on experts to review their research articles against established standards for academic publication; their existence depends on their credibility among scholars and professionals in their discipline. Publishers of magazines and newspapers rely primarily on journalists to edit their publications in a very short time frame against variable ethical standards; their existence depends on appealing to a general audience.
  • What is the purpose? Are the authors writing to persuade, entertain, inform, or advance the state of knowledge in their academic discipline? Have they used only sources most likely to convince you of their point of view, or have they apparently examined everything written related to their topic so they can explain how their research relates?
  • Does the depth and character of the content meet your needs? Is the language too technical or too basic for your audience? Does it offer in-depth coverage of a specialized subtopic when you need a general overview? Does it provide only brief information about the most newsworthy findings of a scientific study, when you are expected to extensively analyze the study, its methods and conclusions?
  • How current is the information? You may be using a book that is considered the most authoritative treatment of a topic ever written, but if you need to account for the most recent developments you will have to search for some articles as well.
  • Pay particular attention to web resources:
    • How did you access the information - through one of the library’s subscription databases (e.g., EBSCOhost) or by searching the web (e.g., Google)?
    • Who is responsible for the page? Is an author listed (you may need to look at the ‘home’ or ‘about’ pages)? Is the author affiliated with an educational, governmental or research institution?
    • How recently was the page updated?
    • Does the domain section of the URL give you any hints about what kind of page it is? The first part of the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, also called the web address) might look like “” – the “.com” part is the top level domain. Here are some common ones:
      • .com – so often found you might think it stands for ‘common,’ but really means ‘commercial.’ Can be anything.
      • .edu – Educational institution; can include databases designed by University institutes as well as Elementary School projects.
      • .gov – Governmental; Federal and State governments, their agencies and institutes – county and city governments mostly use “.us” – the domain for United States (some 240 countries have a two letter top level domain).
      • .net – Network; becoming as common as ‘.com’ and can be just as commercial; includes lots of personal home pages
      • .org – Non-profit Organization; museums, charities, interest groups, professional associations, research institutes, & lots more.
Another comprehensive website about evaluating information uses similar critia
A: Authority
S: Sources
P: Purpose
E: Evenness
C: Coverage
T: Timeliness
updated y.y. May 2010

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