Module 5

Evaluating Sources of Information

To complete this module Read the Objectives. Read the module contents below.

Contents of this page:

Why evaluate?

In today's information age anyone who has the necessary skills can find a wealth of information on almost any topic. The challenge is to sift through a huge amount of information and identify sources that are reliable and appropriate. Whether you find information in books and periodicals, on the Internet, or on television, you cannot assume it is reliable. The user is responsible for evaluating information and judging its quality.

Following is a checklist of points to consider when evaluating any information source:

Evaluation Criteria

Authority

What are the author's credentials? Does the author have expertise on the subject?

How can I find out?

  • Check a biographical source.
  • Read a critical review. A review will often give information about the author.
  • Many Internet sources do not give the identity or credentials of the author or producer. Sources that do not give this information have questionable reliability.

Timeliness

When was the information published? Is the date of publication important to the subject matter?

How can I find out?

  • Look at the date of publication.
  • Determine whether it is important to use current sources for the subject. In fields such as medicine, science, business, and technology, currency of information is important. In fields such as history and literature, older materials may be just as valuable as newer ones.

Documentation

Does the author refer to other works? Does the source have a bibliography?

How can I find out?

  • Does the author support his or her statements with data or references to research?
  • Look at the end of the source for a bibliography or list of references.

Purpose

What is the purpose of the source? Is it to inform, persuade, present opinions, report research, or sell a product? For what audience is it intended? Does it show any bias? Is it popular or scholarly?

How can I find out?

Read the source you are evaluating.

  • Determine whether the source is published by an organization with a particular purpose.
  • Determine whether the source attempts to sell a product or promote a particular point of view. Also, see if it presents a balanced view.
  • Determine whether the material is scholarly or popular using these criteria:

Review process

If the source is a periodical article, was it peer reviewed (refereed) or reviewed by an editorial board? If the source is a book, what is the reputation of the publisher? If it is from the Internet, was there any review process at all? Was it critically reviewed after it was written?

How can I find out?

  • To find out whether a journal is peer reviewed or refereed, look at the journal web page or check Ulrich's Periodical Directory (REF 016.05 UL7p) or Magazines for Libraries (REF 016.05 K159m).
  • Information may be published by an association, a university press, a commercial publisher, or a government. If you know something about the publisher, you can often identify bias and point of view. The following reference sources may help you evaluate publishers:
    • Encyclopedia of Associations (REF 061.3 G131en)
    • Literary Market Place (REF 070.5 L712)
  • Many Internet sources are not reviewed before being posted; however, government, educational, and organizational sites have some sort of review process. If no review process is stated or evident, you may assume there is none.
  • Read a critical review of books, movies, or music.

Suitability

Does the source contain the information you need? Is it written at a level you can understand?

How can I find out?

  • Read the source. If it contains too much technical or specialized language or if it is written for experts in the field, you may wish to choose another source.
  • Determine whether the information is too general or too specific for your need.