Evaluating Print Sources
Every resource, whether it is a book, an article, or a website, must be evaluated to determine its quality and its relevance to your topic. The following criteria can help you evaluate books and articles you find in the University Libraries or via its website.
Can you determine the author''s credentials (such as education background, current position, etc.)? Is the author qualified to write authoritatively on a certain topic? You can try putting the author''''''''s name in quotations and searching for information about him/her in Google. You may discover a resume or an affiliation with a university.
Date of Publication
When was the book or article published? Are you able to use older information or does it need to be as current as possible? Information in the sciences is updated frequently, and research on scientific topics demands up-to-date information. However, research in the humanities and some social sciences is not so dependent on currency of information, and older materials may prove extremely appropriate.
Do you recognize the name of the publisher? Probably not. There are thousands of publishers, and it is impossible to know the reputations of all of them. In general, if the publisher is a university press, such as Oxford University Press, the source is scholarly. Other publishers have excellent reputations and are well known in certain disciplines.
Type of Publication
If you are doing research in periodical literature, it is critical to determine if the article you are looking at is from a scholarly, popular, or trade publication. Typically, you will be asked to use articles from peer-reviewed scholarly journals because articles in them have already been carefully evaluated by specialists in the field.
Who did the author write the work for? Other specialists in the field? The general population? Knowing the intended audience of a book or an article can help you determine its appropriateness for your research. If the author intended his or her work to be enjoyed by the general public, it may not be sufficiently scholarly for your purposes. However, if the targeted readers are other experts in an esoteric field, you may have trouble following the discussion. Determine if the intended audience of a source is right for your needs.
It is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish solid research and logical arguments from propaganda. When reading material, ask yourself if the assumptions the author makes are reasonable and grounded in fact and research, not emotion. Can you determine if the author has researched extensively in this field? Or are his or her sources difficult to verify? It is wise to look at an author''s choice of words. Learn to recognize when you are being subjected to propaganda or when an author is playing on your emotions.
Does the material cover your topic as you thought it would? If it covers your research topic only marginally, you may need to select other sources. Does it provide background information or does it focus on a more specific area or problem? What does this source add to what you already know about your topic? Is it updating what has been established in a field? Have you read similar facts and interpretations in other sources? Remember, you will need to consult a number of sources to get a well-balanced understanding of your topic.
Evaluative reviews can assist you in critiquing library materials. Evaluative reviews of books and articles are almost always written by other experts in a field or discipline. Also, evaluative reviews often mention other comparable works and assess an article''s or book''s scholarly contributions to the discipline.
If you have any questions about evaluating print sources, please visit the Contact us! page to see the various ways you can get help.
Evaluating Electronic Sources
- Is the information reliable?
- Check the author''s credentials and affiliation. Is the author an expert in the field?
- Does the resource have a reputable organization or expert behind it?
- Are the sources of information stated? Can you verify the information?
- Can the author be contacted for clarification?
- Check for organizational or author biases.
- Is the material at this site useful, unique, and accurate or is it derivative, repetitious, or doubtful?
- Is the information available in other formats?
- Is the purpose of the resource clearly stated? Does it fulfill its purpose?
- What items are included in the resource? What subject area, time period, formats or types of material are covered?
- Is the information factual or opinion?
- Does the site contain original information or simply links?
- How frequently is the resource updated?
- Does the site have clear and obvious pointers to new content?
- Is the information easy to get to? How many links does it take to get to something useful?
- What is the quality of the graphical images? Do these images enhance the resource or distract from the content?
- Is the target audience or intended users clearly indicated?
- Is the arrangement of links uncluttered?
- Does the site have its own search engine?
- Is the site easily browsable or searchable?
- Is the site available on a consistent basis?
- Is response time fast?
- Does the site have a text-based alternative?
- How many links lead to a dead-end?
- Is this a fee-based site? Can non-members still have access to part of the site?
- Must you register a name and password before using the site?
- Check the header and footer information to determine the author and source.
- In the URL, a tilde ~ usually indicated a personal web directory rather than being part of the organization''s official web site.
- In order to verify an author''s credentials, you may need to consult some printed sources such as Who''s Who in America or the Biography Index.
- Check and compare the web site to others which are both similar and different.
This site has an excellent bibliography of other internet and print resources on evaluating web resources. http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/evaluate/