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Evaluating Sources: The Basics

Learn tools you can use to evaluate information.

Questions to Ask

Fortunately there are questions that you can ask about any piece of information that you come across regardless of its format - whether it's a book, a website or social media's latest medical advice.

Initially, you can only try to answer four of them - who, when, what and where. If it's a book or a journal article you this means checking the author, the date, the title, where and by who it's published. This information is also useful as you will need it for referencing.

Next, answer why and who - look at the content (e.g. intended audience, writing style, objectiveness etc.)

Who?

Who is the author (may be an individual or organization)?

  • What are the credentials and affiliation or sponsorship of any named individuals or organizations?
  • How objective, reliable, and authoritative are they?
  • Have they written other articles or books?
  • Is the author(s) listed with contact information (street address, e-mail)?

When?

When was the information published, made available or updated?

  • How old is it? Look for the publication date. It is usually located on a title page and/or front page.
  • Is the information timely?
  • Is the information updated reguraly?

What?

What is it and what can you say about the content, context, style, structure, completeness and accuracy of the information?

  • Can you identify the resource's type (a book, an article, a conference paper, a report, a presentation, a video, a website etc.)?

  • Is the content relevant to your information needs?

  • What is implied by the content?

Where?

Where the information comes from and where else can it be found?

  • Who is the publisher? Has the publisher published other works?
  • Do they specialize in publishing certain topics or fields?
  • Is the publisher scholarly (university press, scholarly associations), commercial, government agency, self-press etc.?
  • Is the information authentic?
  • Is the information unique?

Why?

Why is the information created, published or made available (to entertain, to inform, to persuade or to sell)?

How?

How did this information get published or made available?

A Book to Consult

Grix, J. and Watkins, G. (2010) Information skills: finding and using the right resources. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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This work in this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.