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Evaluating Resources

When you encounter any kind of source, consider:

  • When was the source first published?
  • What version or edition of the source are you consulting?
    • Are there differences in editions, such as new introductions or footnotes?
    • If the publication is online, when was it last updated?
  • What has changed in your field of study since the publication date?
    •  Some topics, like health sciences or technology, require current information. Other subjects, like geology or art, value older material as well as current. Know the time needs of your topic.
  • Are there any published reviews, responses or rebuttals?
    • Tip: Search on Google Scholar for any articles you're using. There will be a link that says "Cited by" that lets you see how many other articles have cited the article. Reading those articles will let you see how other researchers have responded to the article - are they arguing with it? Are they building on it with new research? 
  • How is it relevant to your research?
    • Does it analyze the primary sources that you're researching?
    • Does it cover the authors or individuals that you're researching, but different primary texts?
    • Can you apply the authors' frameworks of analysis to your own research?
  • What is the scope of coverage?
    • Is it a general overview or an in-depth analysis?
    • Does the scope match your own information needs?
    • Is the time period and geographic region relevant to your research?
  • Who is the author?
  • What else has the author written?
  • In which communities and contexts does the author have expertise?
    • Does the author represent a particular set of world views? 
    • Do they represent specific gender, sexual, racial, political, social and/or cultural orientations?
    • Do they privilege some sources of authority over others?
    • Do they have a formal role in a particular institution (e.g. a professor at Oxford)? 
      • Tip: When you read a paper in a peer-reviewed journal, the beginning of the article or the end of the article should list the authors of the paper and where they work. 
  • Did they cite their sources?
    • ​Is it short or long?
    • Is it selective or comprehensive?
    • Is it all primary (ex. journal articles) or secondary sources (ex. encyclopedias)?
    • Is the citation style clear and consistent?
    • If not, do you have any other means to verify the reliability of their claims?
  • Who do they cite?
    • Is the author affiliated with any of the authors they're citing?
    • Are the cited authors part of a particular academic movement or school of thought?
  • Look closely at the quotations and paraphrases from other sources:
    • Did they appropriately represent the context of their cited sources?
    • Did they ignore any important elements from their cited sources?
    • Are they cherry-picking facts to support their own arguments?
    • Did they appropriately cite ideas that were not their own?
  • Why was this source created?
    • Does it have an economic value for the author or publisher? 
    • Does it inform or give an overview?
    • Is it an educational resource? Persuasive? Entertainment? 
      • What (research) questions does it attempt to answer?
      • Does it strive to be objective?
    • Does it fill any other personal, professional, or societal needs?
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is it for scholars?
    • Is it for a general audience?

Publication & Format

  • Where was it published?
    • Was it published in a scholarly publication, such as an academic journal?
      • Who was the publisher? Was it a university press?
      • Was it formally peer-reviewed?​
    • Was it published by a commercial publisher? Professional or trade association? Institution? Research Center? Government?
    • Was it published by a vanity press? (publishing house where authors pay to publish their work and lack a rigorous peer-review or editing process)
      • These are notoriously hard to judge. Some self-published works are extremely high quality while others are poorly written, designed, and edited. You must read through the individual title to determine quality. 
  • Does the publication have a particular editorial position?
    • Is it generally thought to be a conservative or progressive outlet?
    • Is the publication sponsored by any other companies or organizations? Do the sponsors have particular biases?
  • Were there any apparent barriers to publication?
    • Was it self-published?
    • Were there outside editors or reviewers?
  • Where, geographically, was it originally published, and in what language?
  • In what medium?
    • Was it published online or in print? Both?
    • Is it a blog post? A YouTube video? A TV episode? An article from a print magazine?
      • What does the medium tell you about the intended audience? 
      • What does the medium tell you about the purpose of the piece?

Bias

Some publishers or authors have an inherent bias that will impact items printed in them or written by them.

  • Is the book or journal article:
    • left/liberal?
    • right/conservative?
    • center?
    • an alternative press?
    • published by a political action (PAC) group?