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Library Basics: Evaluating Print Sources
Guides to getting started at University Libraries. Search tips, source evaluation, and more.
Every resource, whether it is a book, an article, or a website, must be evaluated to determine its quality and its relevance to your topic. The following criteria can help you evaluate books and articles you find in the University Libraries or via its website.
Can you determine the author's credentials (such as education background, current position, etc.)? Is the author qualified to write authoritatively on a certain topic? To learn more about an author's credentials, try one of our biography research databases. These are available from the main library webpage by clicking on All Research Databases and choosing the Biography subject. The database Biography Reference Bank would be a good place to start. You could also try putting the author's name in quotations and searching for information about him/her in Google. You may discover a resume or an affiliation with a university.
Date of Publication
When was the book or article published? Are you able to use older information or does it need to be as current as possible? Information in the sciences is updated frequently, and research on scientific topics demands up-to-date information. However, research in the humanities and some social sciences is not so dependent on currency of information, and older materials may prove extremely appropriate.
Do you recognize the name of the publisher? Probably not. There are thousands of publishers, and it is impossible to know the reputations of all of them. In general, if the publisher is a university press, such as Oxford University Press, the source is scholarly. Other publishers have excellent reputations and are well known in certain disciplines.
Type of Publication
If you are doing research in periodical literature, it is critical to determine if the article you are looking at is from a scholarly, popular, or trade publication. Typically, you will be asked to use articles from peer-reviewed scholarly journals because articles in them have already been carefully evaluated by specialists in the field. To learn more about the various types of publications, consult Scholarly Journals, Popular Magazines, and Trade Publications.
Who did the author write the work for? Other specialists in the field? The general population? Knowing the intended audience of a book or an article can help you determine its appropriateness for your research. If the author intended his or her work to be enjoyed by the general public, it may not be sufficiently scholarly for your purposes. However, if the targeted readers are other experts in an esoteric field, you may have trouble following the discussion. Determine if the intended audience of a source is right for your needs.
It is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish solid research and logical arguments from propaganda. When reading material, ask yourself if the assumptions the author makes are reasonable and grounded in fact and research, not emotion. Can you determine if the author has researched extensively in this field? Or are his or her sources difficult to verify? It is wise to look at an author's choice of words. Learn to recognize when you are being subjected to propaganda or when an author is playing on your emotions.
Does the material cover your topic as you thought it would? If it covers your research topic only marginally, you may need to select other sources. Does it provide background information or does it focus on a more specific area or problem? What does this source add to what you already know about your topic? Is it updating what has been established in a field? Have you read similar facts and interpretations in other sources? Remember, you will need to consult a number of sources to get a well-balanced understanding of your topic. You may also need to determine whether a source is primary or secondary. Consult Primary and Secondary Sources for detailed information about the differences between these types of sources.
Evaluative reviews can assist you in critiquing library materials. Evaluative reviews of books and articles are almost always written by other experts in a field or discipline. Also, evaluative reviews often mention other comparable works and assess an article's or book's scholarly contributions to the discipline. To locate evaluative reviews, consider using these resources: