Deciding which resources to use for your academic research can be challenging.
There are a variety of factors that you can use to determine the appropriateness of a source for your research need. Authority and usefulness are contextual, so each time you work on a new project you have to assess each source’s fit to your needs.
Understanding Citations in Databases
Just because you found the citation to a resource through the library, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t evaluate its appropriateness for your research!
The brief descriptive entries in databases and catalogs are meant to accurately describe and summarize sources so that you can begin to assess their value to your information need.
What elements are available? What do they tell you about the source?
Citation information can tell you a lot, but you will need to look at the full text of the resource to gain a deeper understanding of its usefulness to your research need.
What do you know about the author(s) of this source from the information provided? Consider areas of expertise/specialization, professional experience/ title, other writings by the author(s) in the database. Does the authority of the author(s) seem substantial enough? Do you feel you need more information to determine this? If so, research the person online.
How would you define the publication type? Ex: book (popular, trade, or academic press...) article (popular, trade or scholarly/peer reviewed...) web page (commercial, governmental, organizational...). Is there evidence of an editorial or peer review process? How does this impact the authority of the source considering your unique research need/perspective?
Does the item have a methods or methodology section? If so what does it tell you about what or who it studied? How did they collect the data/information? How was the data analyzed? Do they admit to limitations? Does the method fit the research question at hand?
When the author(s) make a factual claim, do they back it up with citations to the source of the facts/data? If it is their own data do they provide graphs/charts/analyses? Even if the source is an opinion piece, do they refer to other sources to back up their interpretations and analysis? Are the citations complete and able to be followed/confirmed?
Does the main argument, findings, or conclusions of this information source directly inform, support or advance your argument? Is it a counterpoint? What aspects of the findings would you consider citing within your own writing? Is it too tangential to your core topic to really be of use?
Once you have read the source, do you detect any cognitive bias on the part of the author(s)? What about Experimenter’s bias?
Considering all of the above, do you still feel this source is appropriate for use in your assignment?
When evaluating an information source, it is important to pause and be "critical" to the information. It is not simply about determining whether a source is reliable or authoritative. The primary goal of evaluation is to determine the appropriateness and value of a source in context to your purpose. Above are guiding questions to help you in evaluating an information source.