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Research Tips

Why Evaluate?

Research does not only involve finding sources, it also involves evaluating sources. No source should be used just because one finds it. Analyzing and evaluating sources and the information they contain is an essential part of the research process. Every source (including this one) needs to be analyzed and evaluated to make sure it is appropriate and trustworthy.

The two main points one needs to analyze are the reliability of the source and the validity of the content. For the reliability of the source, researchers need to judge whether the author and the type of source can be trusted to provide good information. To judge the validity of the content, one needs to analyze if what the source is saying is correct and appropriate. These concepts can be applied to both print sources and electronic sources. Below are some pointers and questions to consider when analyzing sources.

Evaluating Print Sources

Reliability of the Source

  • Author
    • Are the author's credentials listed? What about the author's educational or professional background?
    • Is there any available background or biographical information about the author? The Reference area contains several resources for locating biographical information.
    • Has the author written anything else in the same or similar fields? Does the Library Catalog list any other books by the author or does one of the many periodical indexes in the library list additional articles by the author?
       
  • Source
    • Books
      • Who is the publisher? Is the book published by an University Press? a major publisher? an Organization?
      • Are there any book reviews on the book? One can search the Databases for reviews of a particular book. How do others analyze the book?
         
    • Periodicals
      • What type of periodical is the article published in: Is it a popular magazine, such as Time or Newsweek? a newspaper? a peer-reviewed scholarly journal? Different types of periodicals provide different levels of information.

Validity of the Content

  • Purpose - Things are written for a purpose, by looking for and recognizing that reason one has a better understanding of the work. When looking for the purpose of a source one should ask:
    • What is the purpose of the work?
    • Is the work written from a particular point of view?
    • What is the author's bias?
    • Who is the intended audience?
       
  • Verification - It is important to verify the information provided by any source. When looking to verify information, one should ask:
    • Can the information be verified?
    • Are the basic facts the same in more than one source?
    • Has there been any reaction to the author's claims?
       
  • Documentation - Authors should give credit where credit is due. Supplying a list of sources used is important for any work. A list of sources makes it easy to verify the information.
    • Does the author document the information?
    • Are the author's claims backed-up with additional sources and checkable facts?
    • Does the author provide a bibliography?
       
  • Accuracy - Authors need to use accurate information. They also need to use other sources accurately. Without the correct information the author's claims might not be true; therefore, one needs to ask:
    • How accurate is the information?
    • Does the author provide proof for his/her claims?
    • Does the author quote other authors correctly?
    • Are other authors saying similar things?
       
  • Currency - Look in the bibliography and see how current the sources the author uses are. For some topics current information is very important. In other topics currency is not quite as important, but even in these areas authors still need to be aware of the current ideas and trends. Therefore, one needs to pay attention to the currency of the sources the author uses and ask the following questions:
    • How current is the information?
    • Is the author using current sources?
    • Is the author trying to pass off old information as new and current?

Evaluating Electronic Sources

Difference between Library Databases and the Rest of the Internet

Unlike the Internet, most print sources have gone through some evaluation before they have been published. Most of the sources accessed through the Library's homepage are electronic versions of print sources. The full-text articles one finds through the Library's Databases are the same as the articles found in the printed journal or magazine. So, although the many of the Library's resources can be accessed through the Internet, it is not the Internet per se. One still needs to evaluate the sources one finds through the Library's Databases, but one can evaluate those sources as print sources.
 

Evaluating the Internet

Evaluating Internet sources is harder then evaluating print resources. This is true for several reasons:

  1. Because anyone can put up an Internet site, it is harder to know who is the author of the source and what his/her credentials are
  2. Internet sources are much more fluid--the information they provide can change in an instant
  3. Often the content has not been evaluated before it is posted on the Internet

Therefore one needs to take extra precaution when using information found on the Internet. There is a lot of very good information located on the Internet, but there is also some suspect information and one needs to be able to judge the information that one finds and tell the difference between the good and the bad.
 

Reliability of the Source

  • URLs: the Uniform Resource Locator or URL often provides some information about the origin of the site. By "decoding" the URL one can get some idea of where the source originated.
    • Often the URL will include the name or abbrevation of the organization where the site origininated, i.e. this site contains "tlu" which stands for Texas Lutheran University.
    • Another easy indicator is the "domain" the site is in. Some examples are "edu" for education, "com" for commercial, "gov" for the US government. There are others and these are only used for US sites, sites from non-US countries are usually only identified by a two letter country code.
  • Author of the Source: Is it easy to find who wrote the site? Is that person responsible for the content of the site?
  • Owner/Sponsor of the site: Is the owner of the site different then the author of the site? Does the owner of the site have anything to do with the content of the site? Is the owner of the site listed anywhere? Is the site for promotional purposes? Is the site being used to forward the agenda of a particular group?

Validity of the Content

  • Purpose - Things are written for a purpose, by looking for and recognizing that reason one has a better understanding of the work. When looking for the purpose of a source one should ask:
    • What is the purpose of the site
    • Is the site written from a particular point of view?
    • What is the author's bias?
    • Is the site only trying to provide information or is the site trying to sell something?
    • Is it a promotional site for an organization?
    • Who is the intended audience?
       
  • Verification - It is important to verify the information provided by any source. When looking to veirfy information, one should ask:
    • Can the information be verified?
    • Are the basic facts the same in more than one source?
    • Has there been any reaction to the author's claims?
       
  • Documentation - Authors should give credit where credit is due. Supplying a list of sources used is important for any work. A list of sources makes it easy to verify the information.
    • Does the author document the information?
    • Are the author's claims backed-up with additional sources and checkable facts?
    • Does the author provide a bibliography?
       
  • Accuracy - Authors need to use accurate information. They also need to use other sources accurately. Without the correct information the authors claims might not be true; therefore, one needs to ask:
    • How accurate is the information?
    • Does the author provide proof for his/her claims?
    • Does the author quote other authors correctly?
    • Are other authors saying similar things?
       
  • Currency - Look in the bibliography and see how current the sources the author uses are. For some topics current information is very important. In other topics currency is not quite as important, but even in these areas authors still need to be aware of the current ideas and trends. Therefore, one needs to pay attention to the currency of the sources the author uses and ask the following questions:
    • How current is the information?
    • Is there any indication of the last time the site was updated?
    • Is the author using current sources?
    • Is the author trying to pass off old information as new and current?