Seeking Quality Information

Information Literacy Module IV: Evaluating Information

Choosing your research sources is like choosing a dodge ball team.  Just like you want to know that your team is going to be quick, agile, smart, and strong in order to help you win the game, you want to trust that your research sources will be authoritative, accurate, objective, current, and reliable in order to help you write a well-informed paper.  It is important to ask yourself, “What is the quality of this information?”  Let’s take a look at each of these qualities:

  • Authority:  You wouldn’t ask a carpenter for advice about your teeth or a dentist for advice about your kitchen cabinets.  The same concept applies to research.  Seek out sources written by experts in their field, and keep in mind that many sources are specialized for certain subjects or fields.
  • Accuracy:   It’s important to be definite (not hesitant) about the points you make in your research assignment.  That’s why the information in your sources should be explained clearly and supported with evidence.
  • Objectivity:   An objective source states only the facts and does not try to persuade its readers, push an agenda, or advocate a cause.  A non-objective (or biased) source has an opinion or agenda.  It may include good information, and it may be a good source of current opinions about a topic, but you should be careful not to cite its assertions as facts.
  • Currency:   Look at your research paper as an addition to the ongoing conversation about your topic.  Would it make sense to jump into the discussion with old news?  Of course not.  That’s why it’s important to choose only the most recent sources, particularly if you’re researching a topic about which new developments are made every day.  Although currency is important, you shouldn’t rule out older sources entirely; using older sources is fine for getting a background understanding of your topic or a historical perspective on its development.
  • Coverage: How comprehensive is the coverage of the topic?
Guiding Your Research
A great source on evaluation is provided by Cornell University’s library:  Critically Analyzing Information Sources.Another very helpful source for web page evaluation is provided by the University of California at Berkeley’s library:  Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask.



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