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Evaluating Information

A major part of the research process includes evaluating the sources of information you locate in your searches. In other words, this step includes searching for relevant information sources and deciding whether to keep and include those sources for your research or discard them in favor of newer, more reliable, higher quality sources.

In fact, the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has determined this to be a crucial stage in developing information literacy skills in their Information Literacy Framework, Competency Standards for Higher Education: “The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.” You can read more about the evaluation standard and outcomes on the Standard Three page.

Evaluation Criteria

While other schools, universities, and libraries may present slight variations or additions, generally it is agreed upon that the basic components of evaluation criteria include the following:

  1. Currency- What is the publication date? Is the date relevant for the subject area/topic? Is it too old? Could a more recently published source provide new and/or different information?
  2. Authority & Credentials – Who is the author and/or publisher? Is the author/publisher reputable or have an established reputation in the discipline and/or field? Does the author/publisher have specific expertise or knowledge to publish on this topic?
  3. Accuracy & Reliability – Is the information or research accurate or valid? Can the same or similar information be verified by other sources?
  4. Audience – Who is the intended audience for the information? Is it written for a general readership, such as an article in a newspaper or magazine (popular sources)? Is it written for people who work in a specific industry (trade publications)? Is it written for a scholarly/academic audience (scholarly sources)?
  5. Bias – Does the information express a specific point of view or opinion? Is the information written by an organization that supports a stated agenda? Is it based on factual evidence from research or experiment? Does the point of view affect the accuracy or reliability of the information?

Determining Bias, Fact or Opinion

Consider the following when evaluating a source for bias:

  1. Does the resource use selective facts or does it omit facts or statistics? Factual writing will often rely heavily on statistical evidence.
  2. Does the resource use language that appeals only to emotion? Does the writing include many exclamation points or all caps?
  3. Does the resource promote a particular political, religious, or social agenda from one point of view? Is the author or publication sponsored by an organization that promotes a specific agenda? 

For additional criteria see the Lakeland Library Research Guide: Evaluating Sources.

When evaluating news sources, the media watchdog, FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting presents questions to consider when determining if a source is being objective or biased on their How to Detect Bias In News Media page.


Types of Information Resources

Be sure to determine what types of information resources are required for your research needs.  Review your assignment or research criteria:

Are you required to use original/primary research articles or is it acceptable to cite secondary articles that summarize or discuss research findings? See our Primary and Secondary Resources page.

Do you need scholarly journal articles? Must those articles be from peer-reviewed journals? See our Scholarly and Peer Reviewed Journals page.

Is it acceptable to use magazine or newspaper articles? See our page on Academic and Popular Resources

Evaluating Articles

The following resources provide criteria and tools for evaluating the quality of a research article:

Blevins, Dr. (n.d.). Checklist for evaluating a research report. Retrieved from http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/pe/exs514web/How2Evalarticles.htm

Mårtensson, P., Fors, U., Wallin, S., Zander, U., & Nilsson, G. H. (2016). Evaluating research: A multidisciplinary approach to assessing research practice and qualityResearch Policy, 45(3), 593-603. doi://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2015.11.009

Oleson, K. & Arkin, R. (2006). Reviewing and evaluating a research article. In F. Leong & J. Austin The psychology research handbook: A guide for graduate students and research assistants (pp. 59-74). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976626.n4

Evaluating Websites

Evaluating websites is, in many ways, very similar to evaluating traditional sources of information like books, journal articles, etc. However, because anyone can create a website, you will need to be more critical in your evaluation. Additionally, there are also special considerations, such as checking the website domain.

See our Website Evaluation page for a list of questions to use for determining the quality of websites and their content. You can also view our Website Evaluation Workshop.  You may access the live workshop schedule here or view the recorded workshops here


Additional Resources

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (2013). Evaluating sources of information. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/02/

The Sheridan Libraries at John Hopkins University. (2016). Evaluating sources for credibility [Video file]. Retrieved from http://guides.library.jhu.edu/evaluatinginformation

UNC University Libraries. (n.d.). Evaluating information. Retrieved from http://www2.lib.unc.edu/instruct/evaluate/index.html?section=home


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