Critically Evaluating Research Material

All information sources--articles, books, web sites, and any other information sources are suspect until you evaluate them for credibility, quality and appropriateness. Use the factors below to evaluate your sources before you decide to use them for your research. All of the criteria should be evident from a quick examination of the source. It is critical that you use credible (trustworthy, believable) information to support your research efforts. Know what you are reading, why it is important, and why you want to use it.

Criteria for evaluating articles, books, media:
Authority:

  • who is the author and publisher
  • does the author have credentials (degrees, background in the field, relevant experience)
  • is s/he affiliated with a university, scholarly society, professional association, government agency, etc.
  • is the publisher reputable--commercial, trade, university press, scholarly society or association, government agency, etc.

Quality/Objectivity:

  • what is the purpose of the article or book
  • who is the intended audience
  • is the content objective and the language unbiased
  • does the source contain references and a bibliography or works cited section
  • is the time frame and subject coverage clearly apparent
  • when was it written/published--is the information current, outdated, or is it an historical overview

Appropriateness:

  • does the material enhance or support your research
  • is the material scholarly (and peer-reviewed), when required
  • is the source primary or secondary, as is required for your assignment
  • is the scope (breadth and depth) sufficient for your topic
  • is the material current or timely for your topic--does it fall within a required date range

Criteria for Evaluating Internet sites:
Authority:

  • who is the author and/or sponsor-publisher--is it apparent
  • is the author credentialed and the sponsor-publisher reputable--can you contact the author by phone, mail or email (frequently, the author of the page is not the webmaster or company responsible for actually uploading the web page)
  • is there an affiliation with an institution, scholarly society, professional association, commercial enterprise
  • if the author or sponsor is not a governmental or educational institution, there should be an "About Us" or "Who We Are" link that gives you the necessary information

Quality/Objectivity:

  • check the domain name of the URL (if not .edu or .gov, beware)—some .orgs and .coms are OK
  • what is the purpose of the web page—why was it written and for whom (audience)
  • is the content clear and objective and the language unbiased--much of the information available on the Internet consists of unsubstantiated opinion and outright falsehoods intended to sell, entertain, persuade, or convert you
  • look for links to additional sites for further exploration--are they relevant to the topic
  • are included links broken or viable
  • does the source contain references and a bibliography or works cited section
  • does the site require you to purchase special software or pay fees to obtain some of the information
  • is there limited or no advertising
  • is the time frame and subject coverage clearly apparent
  • when was it written/published/last updated--is the information current, outdated, etc.

Appropriateness

  • does the material enhance or support your research
  • is the material scholarly (and peer-reviewed), when required
  • is the source primary or secondary, as is required for your assignment
  • is the scope (breadth and depth) sufficient for your topic
  • is the material current and timely for your topic--does it fall within a required range