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Evaluating your Resources
When you look for information, chances are you’re going to find a lot. How do you tell the good information from the bad? Resources featured on an academic library’s Web site have often been edited and checked by scholarly organizations and publishers, then evaluated by librarians for inclusion in the library’s collection. The information you find through those resources will generally be trustworthy. But what about information found on the World Wide Web? Anyone can create a Web site, but there are no guarantees that it was checked for accuracy before it was published or posted.
It is important to keep in mind that just because information is published in a book, journal, magazine, or Web site, does not mean it is true. You must take the time to evaluate the accuracy of the information. Good researchers need to develop critical thinking skills in evaluating information, whether it comes from library materials or Web sources.
When evaluating your resources, use the questions listed below. They will help you determine whether the information you find is worth your time. If you can't easily answer these questions by browsing the resource, you may want to re-think using it.
Currency: The timeliness of the information
- When was the source published? If timeliness matters to your project, make sure the source meets your needs.
- For example, if your project requires you to use current information, you probably don't want to use something published a long time ago. However, if you're researching an event that occurred fifty years ago, you might be interested in sources published near the time of the event.
- For Websites:
- When was the Web site last revised, modified or updated?
- Is the site well maintained? Are links current and working or do they lead to outdated pages and/or error messages?
Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
- Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
- Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?
Authority: The source of the information
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
- Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
- Is there contact information, such as a publisher or an email address?
- For Web sites, does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
- A Web site author can be a person, a commercial company (.com), an academic institution (.edu), a government agency (.gov), a nonprofit organization (.org), a network of computers (.net), a military site (.mil), or a country-specific (.uk) site.
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
- Where did the author find the information? Are there citations of any sort?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
Purpose: The reason the information exists
- What is the purpose of the information? To provide research and scholarly information? To provide educational or factual information? To entertain? To advertise, market, or sell something? To advocate ideas? To persuade you? Or, is there another purpose?
- Does the source provide balanced, objective, or factual information?
- Is the point of view presented in a direct manner, or is it presented in an unbalanced and unreasonable way? Are arguments well supported?
- If it's a Web site:
- Is there a link to a mission statement or "About Our Organization" page?
- Does it provide subjective, editorial, or opinion statements? Is the site a forum for a personal, political, or ideological bias?
Design: The organization and ease of use
- Is the Web site clearly organized and easy to read, use, and navigate?
- If applicable, are "Help" or "Search Tips" pages available? Are they easy to understand?
- If the Web site is large, is a search capability provided? If so, is it easy to use?