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Evaluating Information Sources

Whether you are using books from the library or a page from a web site, it is important to critically evaluate any information source before you use it in your research. Below are some questions that you should ask yourself about the sources you have collected.

When was the source published?

Is current information important for your topic? How does the date of publication relate to your topic?

Is this a first edition?

Several editions of a book may demonstrate that a source has been updated to reflect new information, and may be a standard source in the field.

Who has published this resource?

If your source is a book consider the publisher. Is it a popular publisher, or a university press, which would reflect more scholarly content?

Is this a scholarly or popular journal?

This is an important indicator of the complexity and authority of the information.

Is it aimed at a specialized or general audience?

Consider the intended audience for this resource. Is the language difficult to understand? If the source is difficult for you to read and understand it may not be useful.

Is the information fact or opinion?

Does the author attempt to remain objective? Is the information supported by other research or has this author provided sufficient evidence? A bibliography or list of references can help you to learn the source of the author's information.

Is the author credible?

What are the author's credentials, or background in this area? Has your instructor or other scholars in the discipline mentioned this author? Has this author written other articles, papers, reports or books on this same topic? Consider these factors and then decide if and how you would like to use this author's work in research.

Does this source support your topic?

Does the source contribute to or support other information you have found on your topic?

Post Evaluation Tips

Based on your evaluation, you may decide to not use some of the sources or find additional sources. Don't get frustrated. The purpose of writing papers, speeches, and projects is for you to learn. Research is just part of that learning process. It is possible that you may have to use several library resources or formats of information to get the information you need. The best thing to do is allow yourself plenty of time for research and ask your instructor or a librarian for help if you run into any problems.
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