Locating the information you need for an essay, term paper, seminar, or personal use is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to evaluate physical information sources. You usually ask yourself if the information you have gathered is relevant to your topic and then you go from there. Many people will spend a few seconds looking over the table of content in a book or briefly scanning the abstract to determine if the book is relevant to their topic. It is important to always evaluate information before you assume it is valid.
Here are some questions you need to ask yourself when you are looking at physical information sources:
•Start by researching the author’s qualifications and credentials. How much experience does the author have on this particular topic?
•Why is the author writing this book? Is there something happening in the economy that is sparking interest in this topic?
•Is the information biased? If so, make sure you pick another book to gain a better understanding of both sides.
•Does the author cite their sources? What methods did the author use in obtaining the information?
•Does the author provide evidence to support their conclusion? Many books will have an introduction from another trusted author letting the reader know they support the information found in the book.
•Does the author and publisher have a good reputation? Are they respected by their colleagues?
You can always look at Who’s Who titled to find additional information about the author. A public librarian can help you if you are unsure of how to evaluate physical information. Libraries often have bibliographic citations and periodical indexes and databases that are open to the public. Most of these databases and indexes will provide you with information about the author, publisher, and date of publication or revision.
Bibliographies are one of the easiest and most useful ways to locate information. A bibliography will cite relevant publications and will also give you referrals for similar books on this topic.
You should always check for the publication date. Most books will have this date on the title page below the publisher’s name. You should also look for an edition number or revision number. Are you holding a first edition or a revision? An updated or revised edition will indicate that a source was omitted or was revised from the original publication. It is good to note that many printings or editions may indicate that your source is reliable and is considered a standard in that particular area of information.
The publisher is another important thing to look at when you are evaluating your physical information sources. If you are looking for scholarly information, you want to find a source that is published by a university press. You can also check the publisher’s web site as well. Their web site will provide you with a listing of all the books or articles they have published and some even provide links to the author’s biography. Always be aware that just because a publisher may have a good reputation, it does not mean the published work is the best quality. This may indicate that the publisher holds the author in high regard and will publish anything they write.
It is always important to apply your personal judgment when you are evaluating physical information sources. Always check your source to see if it is scholarly or popular opinion. Your reputation as a student or a writer will fall back on how well you researched your physical information sources. It is easy to locate numerous books on your topic, but be sure you take the time to evaluate the information.