Skip to main content
site header image

Evaluating Materials: Evaluating Materials

This site outlines techniques for critically evaluating material both online and in print

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented at the time or after the event.  Primary sources include autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories. legislative documents, court cases, case studies, longitudnal and other studies.

Secondary Sources
are commentary or analysis of Primary Sources.  Examples include biographies, critical essays on primary works, commentary on about primary sources including interpretations, persuasive articles, surveys and reference resources. 

Popular, Scholarly & Trade Publications

Popular magazines and newspapers:  Written for the general public.  These publications are written for informaiton and/or entertainment purposes.  They are normally for-profit, and include advertising. They are published frequently, daily for newspapers, and weekly or monthly or bi-monthly for magazines.

Scholarly journals: Written by scholars or academics for scholars and those working on academic research.  Articles must be approved by an editorial board of peer reviewers.  Because a great deal of time is involved in their writing and production, journals are published less frequesntly, usually quarterly or even annually. 

Trade publications: These may be magazines or journals, and are written for professionals in a particular field.  Some are research related, most are not.

When Scholarly Articles Aren't Really Scholarly

Ina New York Times article published on April 7, 2013,  wites about the "parallel world of pseudo-academia" where for profit and even erroneous journal type works are published by organizations that either have a name that sounds like a well known institution or organization, or purport to be scholarly endeavors.  Kolata writes, "But some researchers are now raising the alarm about what they see as the proliferation of online journals that will print seemingly anything for a fee. They warn that nonexperts doing online research will have trouble distinguishing credible research from junk." 

How does the unknowing novice at research deal with this dilemma?  Well one way is to use the online databases we provide through organizations such as EbscoHost and Thomson Gale.  These are vetted for accuracy and authority, and hopefully they are on top of this issue.  Another way is to consult an excellent list of  “predatory open-access journals”  created by Jeffrey Beall;, a research librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver.  These are enumerated in his own blacklist

 

Criteria for Evaluating Fake News Stories

Need More Information For Identifying Fake News?

Evaluating Resources - Interactive Tutorials and Videos

The quality of your research depends upon the quality of your sources.  Choosing the best sources is key to any research endeavor.  With such an array of information available to you, this process can be daunting.  The type of source you choose should always match your exact needs, for instance, if your teacher asks for a peer reviewed article, then you should seek out journal articles instead of magazines or newspapers.

Every resource you examine should be appraised carefully. Using a criteria for evaluating materials is very helpful in determining what you will select. Thinking critically about your selections is also essential. Keep in mind that just because a resource is in the library, doesn’t make it the best fit for your research needs. Always review the assignment to determine exactly what is required of you. If you are researching an independent project, then the following criteria will also be helpful

 

Criteria For Evaluating Print Materials

1)   Accuracy

  1. Is the information reliable and error-free?  What is the intended purpose of the work?  Is it to inform or to entertain?
  2. Is there an editor or someone who verifies/checks the information?  (Peer reviewed Journal)
  3. Is the information scholarly or for a peer reviewed Journal?
  4. Does this resource provide references, footnotes or a bibliography?
  5. Who is the publisher?  Are they a well-known publishing house or is this item self-published?  What is the longevity of the publication, if it is a periodical.
  6. Is the information correct and based on proven facts?  Can these be verified?

2)   Authority

  1. Is there an author? Who is the author?  
  2. Is the author an expert in the field.  If you are looking at a book, is there biographical information on the author give.  Do they hold degrees in this subject?  Have they written other works on this subject?  Do they belong to National or  International associations on this subject? If you are looking at a periodical, is there biographical information on the author?
  3. If there is not an author listed, as sometimes occurs with editorials in magazines, what is the publication and is it authoritative?  (The publication has longevity, is well known or established, etc.)
  4. Is the publisher well known, a University or educational institutions, government agency, a well-known organization or a company?

3)   Objectivity

  1. What is the author’s purpose?  Why are they writing this work?  What do they have to prove?
  2.  Does the information show a minimum of bias?  (Or do you recognize where the bias lies?)
  3. Is the article written to sway opinion?  Does the publication have a noted bias?
  4. If you are looking at a book, can you find a review on the work?  What do the reviewers say about objectivity.? 

4)    Currency

  1.  Is the book or article page dated?  Keep in mind that medical information should probably be a s up to date as possible, unless you are researching historical practice. 
  2.  Are newer texts on the subject available?
  3. If an older work, would this be considered a classic, in which case it’s age may not be of concern.  Is this work listed in the bibliographies of other, authoritative works? 

5)    Coverage

  1. What topics are covered? 
  2. Is the scope and depth of the material appropriate for college level research?  How in-depth is the material? 
  3. What does this page offer that is not found elsewhere?
  4.  What is its intrinsic value?
  5. Is there a full listing of works cited provided?  Are there glossaries or notes given?  Has this work been cited in other sources?