Evaluate what you find - Guide - Library - University of Canterbury

Evaluate information sources

There is a huge amount of information published and not all of it is suitable for University assignments. References recommended on reading lists will already have been evaluated for quality. It is important to evaluate critically sources of information you find yourself to make sure they are reliable, accurate and unbiased.

Below are some general criteria to consider when evaluating information:

Authority

Who is the author?

  • What are the author's credentials? Do they have academic qualifications?
  • Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organisation?

What organisation published the information?

  • Is it an academic institution publishing for other scholars and researchers?
  • or a news organisation reporting to the wider community?
  • or a government body or related organisation to assist policy makers?
  • or an industry or commercial organisation aiming to make a profit?
  • or an individual's opinion?
  • or a 'Front Group' with an agenda?

Currency

When was the material published?

  • Look for a publication or copyright date on the title page of books or on the bottom of a web site page.

Objectivity

Why was the material published?

  • Does it report on new research?
  • Does it review existing research?
  • Is it a news item?
  • Is it advertising a product?
  • Is it promoting a particular viewpoint?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Can you see any bias evident? Some research may have been funded by companies who have a vested interest in the outcome. This work is published in journals funded by the industry.

How does the information compare with other information sources?

  • Compare material in one source with material in another. See on what issues there is agreement or disagreement.

Does the information appear valid and well-researched?

  • Does the author cite the sources they have used? Is there a reference list or bibliography of sources?
  • Is the author's point of view objective? Is the language free of bias?
  • If it's original research, does it explain its methodology?

Relevance

Is the content appropriate for your assignment?

  • Does the information help to answer your assignment question?
  • Is the information too complicated or too basic?
  • Do you need primary sources that give an original account of research, or secondary sources that are interpretations of another's work?
  • Does your information have to be about New Zealand or can it give an international perspective?

Read more about evaluation:

Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools (Cornell University Library)