Evaluating Print Sources

Information Literacy Module IV: Evaluating Information

Once a source has passed your first test (a scanning of its documentation information and summary), it’s time to decide whether the information it provides will indeed be useful to you. There are a few elements to consider:

Focus and Scope: Scan the major headings of the work. Does it appear that the source addresses the topic(s) you’re seeking to learn more about, or does it develop in a direction that won’t be useful to you? Does the source address your topic in sufficient detail, or does it gloss over the concepts you were hoping to read more about?

Purpose: What is the aim of the source? Does it seek to entertain, inform, or persuade? Would using information from this source be helpful to your research or would it confuse it? For example, for some assignments, it might be appropriate to begin a speech or an essay by citing a story that lightly introduces your audience to your topic, while in other assignments it wouldn’t work; in addition, while it might be useful to compare the opinions of experts in the field, stating opinions as facts would lead to biased and possibly inaccurate information. That’s why it’s important to consider the source’s purpose as well as your purpose in using it.

Audience and Readability: Who do you think is the intended audience for this source? On one hand, a source may be too simple and elementary (perhaps aimed at younger school children). On the other, it may assume considerable previous knowledge from its readers and be full of jargon (perhaps intended for experts in the field). It’s important to find a source that will be useful to you and your audience.

Guiding Your Research
Evaluate the content of the two sources you just found (the good one and the not-so-good one). Base your evaluation on the three criteria we just addressed: focus and scope, purpose, and audience and readability. One sentence for each criterion should be sufficient.


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