Browsing Printing Sources

Information Literacy Module IV: Evaluating Information

We’ve all heard the rule, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a nice concept for avoiding prejudice, but when it comes to looking for quality sources of information, it’s a rule worth breaking. When you’re searching for a source using an online catalog or a database, you’ll encounter some important information about your source long before you have the book in your hand or the journal article on your screen. This description usually includes the documentation information for the source and often includes a summary of the work. As you’re browsing your sources, there are a few elements you’ll want to keep an eye out for:

Author: Who wrote the source? Is it clear what the author’s credentials are? Can you search the author’s name on the internet to find out anything more about his or her credibility, reputation, experience, and expertise with your topic?

Date: When was this source published? Since most research assignments will have you adding something new to the greater conversation about your topic, it’s important to find the most current research. We’re living in an information age, so there’s no reason to go with stale research. (Note: This is not to say that all aged works are to be ignored. Depending on your research topic, a historical perspective may be useful.)

Publication: Which company published the book you’re considering, and what type and quality of work is it known for publishing? Which journal printed the article you’re eyeing, and what is its reputation in the field? Was your work put out by a university, a government office, or another respected outlet?

Summary: Reading a summary of your source may have less to do with quality and more to do with whether or not the source is a good fit for the answers you’re seeking through research. In this way, it helps you to evaluate the usefulness of the source.

As you can see, you can tell a lot about the quality of your source before you even read it. Take the time to consider the publication information and summary of your sources before you commit to downloading, locating, printing, or reading them. It will save you time in the long run!

Guiding Your Research
Using either WebCat or one of the databases you learned about in Module 3, find the descriptions for two sources: one that, based on its documentation information and its summary (if available), you would feel completely confident using in your research and another that, based on the information provided, might leave you questioning its quality or usefulness. Explain in a sentence or two what it is that makes you trust the first source and doubt the second.



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