Evaluating information you have obtained for a research paper, article, or personal use is a key aspect in ensuring you are receiving valid and truthful information. Here are some key tools you can use when you are evaluating information:
Start by looking for the author — The author should be found quickly and you should check for three things:
1.Does the book, magazine, or web site list the author’s credentials? Most web sites will have a section dedicated to their authors so you can properly evaluate their credentials.
2.Is the author respected? The easiest way to know if an author is respected is to ask a college professor, look for other web pages that link to the article, and check to see if the author’s name appears in other sources.
3.Lastly, you should look for information linking the author to a reputable institution or organization. Find out what the goals or the mission statement is of this organization and check the author’s writing style to see if they are matching these values.
Look for resources — It is always important to check where the information you are getting is coming from. For example, if you are doing a research paper about medical malpractice, you will want to look at government web sites that contain this information. If you do a search for this information elsewhere, you may find the information you are receiving is coming from a biased opinion, and you aren’t getting “both sides” of information available. It is just important to remember that anyone can publish on the Internet, so be sure you are checking your sources.
Authority is particularly important when it comes to the Internet. “Authority indicates whether or not an individual, an organization, or an agency is recognized as an expert in a field and if that body is knowledgeable, qualified, and reliable.” The proper authority indicates whether or not you are gaining the right information. Government agencies and academic organizations are often trusted with authority.
Always check for the publication date. You should be able to locate the date of publication quite easily. Most books will have this date on the title page below the publisher’s name. Web sites will list the date at the very bottom of the article, or they may even list it at the bottom of the home page. If you cannot find a date, continue looking. Many topics are continuing to develop and require daily, weekly, and monthly updates.
The revision number is another important thing to look for when you are evaluating information. 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. Web sites will also indicate revision dates (if the company permits it). 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.
You should always check the information for bias opinions. When you are looking for information, you want to find opinions that are balanced so you can see “both sides of the picture” so to speak. Some works are clearly biased and others may lean more to one opinion that another. If you are reading an objective book or article, check it to see if it does acknowledge different viewpoints. Just because the information is biased doesn’t necessarily mean it is invalid or wrong. You will need to research the other opinion if you expect to keep this as a source. A good author will inform you up front that their article, book, or web site contains a one-sided opinion.