Critically Evaluating Information
In addition to the information retrieved from library databases and the Web sites listed in this guide, the free Internet can be a valuable source of information, too. However, as is the case with all resources you use, remember to think critically about the authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage of the information you find.
Evaluating Library Resources
Books and database articles should be evaluated to determine their credibility and relevance to your topic before selecting them for a research assignment. Use the criteria below to help you evaluate these resources. Note: Titles below marked with an asterisk * are in hardcopy in the Oviatt Library--click the link to get location information.
Who Created the Information?
- What are the qualifications of the author, publisher, or organization responsible for the content of the resource?
- What are the author's education and/or experience?
- Look for the author's biography or information about the publisher or responsible organization either within the publication or use the sources below to find out more about authors, publishers, and organizations:
Information on Authors:
- Biography Index 1984 - present
- Gale Virtual Reference Library (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
Information on Publishers:
- Google - look for publisher's home page (check for focus, how long in business, circulation, etc)
- Worldcat.org - see how many/which kind of libraries have the publication.
Information on Organizations:
- Idealist.org - information about foundations
Content & Coverage
- Who is the audience for the publication (scholarly or general)?
- Is the information primary or secondary in nature?
- Does it provide general background information or in-depth information on a specific topic? Which do you need?
- How extensive is the bibliography or list of cited references? Can you use these references to find more information on your topic?
- What is the publication date of the book or database article?
- How up-to-date are the citations in the bibliography?
- How current does the information need to be for your topic or your assignment?
Have other scholars evaluated the resource?
- Books: Use the sources below to locate book reviews:
- Articles: How have other scholars evaluated the article in follow-up letters or editorials? Letters or editorials in response to journal articles are usually indexed just like the original article. Search keywords from the article title and/or author name using a relevant Library database or ask a librarian to recommend an appropriate database.
- Can you find the same information in another source?
Determine whether the information is fact, opinion, or propaganda.
- Does it present a fair and balanced view of an issue?
- Are there footnotes to show the source of the facts or quotes?
- Does the author or publisher have a particular bias?
- Are opinions or propaganda easy to recognize?
- Do the words and phrases play to your emotions or bias the content?
- Are there advertisements that suggest the information might be biased toward selling a product rather than providing objective information?