Evaluate Your Sources

Evaluating the sources you find is a crucial step in the process of library research. The questions you ask to evaluate books, periodical articles, or web sources are similar. How to Critically Analyze Information Sources lists some of the critical questions you should ask when you consider the appropriateness of a particular book, article, or website for your research.

Authority
  • What are the author's qualifications? The source itself may provide some biographical information, or check biographical sources in the reference collection.
  • Is the author an expert on this topic? Has he or she written other material on the topic?
  • Is the publisher or sponsoring organization reputable?
  • Is it a scholarly journal? Many databases allow you to limit your search to scholarly journals; however, some may use a term such as "peer-reviewed" or "refereed."

Accuracy
  • How reliable and error-free is the information?
  • Are sources listed so that the reader can verify the data?
  • Are there editors or other people who have checked the facts?

Objectivity
  • Is the information presented with a minimum of bias? If there is a bias, is it clearly stated?
  • Is the information trying to persuade the audience to change their opinion?
  • If there is advertising on the web page, is it clearly differentiated from the information content?

Currency
  • Is the information up-to-date?
  • Is currency important? Some subjects, like medicine or technology, require current information. Other subjects, like religion or history, may not need to be as current.
  • Is the publication date clearly noted? Does the web page indicate when it was written and last revised?

Suitability
  • Is your topic included in the work? Check the table of contents or index.
  • Are the topics explored in depth or superficially?
  • Is the language too technical or specialized? If so, choose something that's more appropriate.