Evaluating Sources

       

Many of the ideas presented below were suggested by articles that appeared
in
volume 20 number 4 of School Libraries in Canada in 2001
and adapted for this web page.
 
 

Student must constantly evaluate the sources of the information they are thinking of using. The following points, summarized from Joseph Gibaldi (MLA Handbook), may be helpful as you attempt to evaluate sources.

"(Do) not assume that something is truthful or trustworthy just because it appears in print or on the Internet." (pgs. 25-26)

Just because someone has been able to print something or has had access to the Internet does not mean that they have their facts right or that their work is unbiased. A good researcher questions their sources. The best way to make an informed opinion is to use a variety of different sources, such as your textbook, library books, encyclopdeias, and the internet to build a broad base of knowledge about a topic.

 

Authorship
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Who wrote the material you are reading or examining? Do they have a specific point-of-view? Has this point-of-view influenced their work? (Did they leave out important information because they didn't agree with what it said?) Do they have a bias?

Any material that fails to tell you who the author or publisher is, when the material was written (and updated), and who is responsible for its publication must be questioned and perhaps discarded.

For information from a print encyclopedia, an article in a journal, or a book this information is usually found on the Title Page and the Verso.

When using the Internet look for:

- the name of the sponsoring organization (and links to contacts via e-mail, the phone, or mail in case you have questions),
- the title of a particular web page (sometimes found in the URL),
- the name/s of the author or authors,
- a date when the original web page was created or posted, and
- the date, or dates, for any revisions to the web page.

 

 
 

Authority
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What authority does the author of the material you are using have? Are they recognized as an expert in their field? Are they simply an individual with a point of view?

The print publications that researchers depend on, in the non-fiction collection of a library, are generally issued by reputable publishers, that accept accountability for the work they sell. Assessing the authority of Internet resources is a particular challenge. Just because someone wrote it does not make it true.

Almost all publishers of textbooks and non-fiction books use a process of review. This means that an author who wants to have a book published expects to have their peers (other experts in the same field) read and comment on work before it is published. This kind of review helps to correct mistakes and gives authority to a writer’s work.

"Some Internet sites conduct this kind of evaluation, but most do not.
Many online materials are self-published without any outside review." (pg. 26)

 
 

Accuracy and Verifiability
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How accurate is the work you are reading? In many research areas, such as cancer research, once an author publishes their latest work, other researchers will want to see if the can duplicate that work because it may help with their work. Published research papers must be free of mistakes.

Published work must also contain enough important details so that others can duplicate the key steps. This allows them to verify any claims being made.

Almost all serious work refers, in some fashion, the work of other experts. These sources should be listed in a bibliography. Bibliographies should be used as guides for your research. They can be used to see the breadth, or bias, of an author’s work.

If an article or book fails to include a bibliography, then you should look for another source for your research.

 
 
Currency
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How current is the material you are planning to use? Is currency important for your research topic?

In some fields currency is very important. (The images beamed back from Mercury in the Spring of 2008 highlight how important currency is in astronomy.) In many fields new ideas and theories are constantly being produced. These ideas and theories may be critical to your research. The same is true for research in areas such as cancer.

In other fields you may want to read original documents that are sometimes hundreds of years old as sources of information. As a researcher you are responsible for knowing whether the material you are using is current and whether this is important.

 
 
Bibliography

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999.

 
 
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Written by Stewart Savard October 2005. Coverted to eLibrary format August 2008.
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