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Writing Toolkit: How to evaluate resources

This guide contains tools to assist with the writing process

How to evaluate resources

You’ve been assigned a research paper.  You know what the professor wants, and you understand what types of information that you need to find.  You’ve talked to the librarians and know which databases contain the information you want, and you have designed a search strategy to get the information that you need.  You’ve started to retrieve information for your paper, now it is time to evaluate the information and ensure that it is what you are looking for.

  • Gather multiple sources

Before we do any evaluation, make sure that you have gathered information from multiple sources.  Don’t rely on only one source.  If you only use one source you will miss out on other points of view on the issue that you are researching.  You may also miss out on any corrections that are issued for the article that you’ve used.  A basic rule of thumb is that if a fact is repeated in multiple sources it is probably safe to use in your research.

  • Evaluate

Now that you’ve got the resources that you need, it is time to evaluate them.  We use the following criteria for our evaluation: reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view/bias.

  • Reliability

Has this source been reliable in the past?  Does it have a peer review process?  Is it a reputable publisher?  What do the editors of the source do when they discover errors that have made it into publication?  If the author did a survey to get information for the article, did they survey enough randomly chosen people?  If the author did a chemical analysis of a substance, did they state the procedure clearly enough that you could duplicate the experiment and achieve the same results?  Was there a peer review process that reviewed the article and the research behind it?

  • Validity

Does the information that you’ve found make sense?  Is there enough information given so that you can duplicate results?   Did the author state their goal, and then use an easily followed progression to prove their point?  Was it easy to follow the author’s argument?  Did the author use a good argument to prove their point?  Is the author trying to manipulate their audience?

  • Accuracy

Is the information accurate?  Does it go into the detail that you need for your research?  Is the information relevant for your research?  Has the data been manipulated to deceive the reader?

  • Authority

Is the producer of the information in a position to know what they are talking about?  Does the author have the background to make the claims that they make? 

  • Timeliness

How current is the information?  How current do you need the information to be?  If the information is old, will that be a problem?  What were the characteristics of the culture that the information was created in?  If an item seems prejudicial now, was it prejudicial when the item was written?

  • Point of view/bias

What is the author trying to do with the information?  Does the author have a bias that affects the information presented?  Is the author trying to change your point of view?  Does this affect the validity of the information?  Are any of the author’s prejudices easily discernable, and do they affect the research?  Is the author using deception or manipulation in their paper?

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Your research is important to you.  You want to put your best work into it, and you want to do the best that you can on it.  Taking the time to evaluate your information can help you better understand your research and the issues underlying it, and it can help you realize any short comings in your research before it is too late to do anything about it.