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Research Skills Tutorial

Module 5: Critically Evaluating Information

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Evaluate print and Internet resources using seven criteria.
  • Realize the research limitations, as well as research value, of the Internet.
  • Search the World Wide Web effectively.

Introduction

There are seven criteria for evaluating a resource: audience, purpose, accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage. All seven criteria apply to information in any format. We will examine these criteria for both print and Internet resources.


Critical Evaluation of Print Resources

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider each of the criteria.

  • Accuracy
    How reliable, complete, and error-free is the information? Are the author's sources listed? Does the publisher employ editors, reviewers, or fact checkers?
  • Audience
    Who is the intended audience - professionals, students, researchers? Children or adults? Proponents of a certain viewpoint? Is the language used appropriate to the target audience?
  • Authority
    Who is the author or publisher? What credentials or experience does the author have? Has the author published other items on this subject? Is the publisher a commercial, university, or government press?
  • Coverage
    Does the information present an overview or a detailed discussion? Is the information comprehensive? What topics are included? What time periods are covered?
  • Currency
    Is the information up-to-date? Is the publication date easily found? Is a newer edition available?
  • Objectivity
    Does the author present the information objectively, from various points of view? Or, does the author write with bias, from a particular point of view? To what extent does the information attempt to persuade or sway the audience?
  • Purpose
    Is the purpose to inform, to persuade, to express an opinion, or to advertise? Does the purpose match your information need?

Effective World Wide Web Searching

The web is the primary source of content on the Internet, which is a vast network of networks, supporting several different functions. There are several types of web search engines. Some search engines are directories of web sites, like Yahoo!, with links to web sites grouped by topic. Other search engines, like Google, index and perform actual searches of web sites.

Here are some tips for building effective web searches:

  • Recognize the type of search engine being used. Is it a directory or search index?
  • Check the help screens for search tips and guidelines.
  • Be creative with your search terminology, just as you would be when searching an article database or catalog.
  • Use quotations around phrases.
  • Remember that no search engine catalogs the entire Internet!

Critical Evaluation of Internet Resources

Anyone can publish anything on the web, so it is important that you are able to critically evaluate Internet resoruces. Using the same criteria mentioned above, here are some questions to consider as you apply these criteria to Internet resources.

  • Accuracy
    When was the information originally created? When was the information last updated or revised? Are the links from the web page still reliable?

    Web sites are rarely reviewed or verified by an editor or fact checker, as books and articles in scholarly journals are (see What is a Scholarly Journal). Remember, anyone can publish anything on the web!
  • Audience
    Who is the intended audience for the Web site? General audience, professionals, students, researchers? Try to determine what audience the author of the Web site is trying to reach.
  • Authority
    Who created the particular page and sponsored the web site? Is there contact information? (e-mail address, physical address or institution) Is there a link to a homepage? If so, is it for an individual or an organization?

    Check the address for clues as to the type of organization.
    .gov = government agency
    .org = organizations
    .com = commercial company
    .edu = educational
  • Coverage
    What topics are included? Is the information comprehensive? Does the site present an overview or a detailed discussion? What other kinds of sources are cited?
  • Currency
    What is the date the information was created? What is the date the information was last revised? Dates are not always included on web pages.
  • Objectivity
    Is any bias evident? Does the author present the information objectively, from various points of view, or from one particular point of view? To what extent does the information attempt to persuade or sway the audience?
  • Purpose
    Why has this web site been created? To sell, to advertise, to inform, or to persuade? The purpose of a web site is not always clearly stated.

Conclusion

The same evaluation criteria can be applied to both print and Internet resources. Ask yourself the questions above to determine if the source is valid for your research. If you are ever unsure about a source you have located, consult with a librarian or your professor.