The information we gather from the Internet and other sources is constantly changing. Information in the field of science is one topic that is continually updated, so how can you be sure the current information is valid? The information published on the web is particularly vulnerable to faulty authors or out-dated material. Here are some tips to help your evaluate the current validity of information.
Tip # 1 — Always look 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.
Tip # 2 — Look at your article or book for the 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. 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.
Tip # 3 — Use your instincts. You can easily tell when information is out-of-date. Bad links on web pages are a good indicator that the author or company does not update their web page on a continual basis. Again, the book or article should have a revision number with a new copyright or publication date. You can find excellent information from books published in the 1970’s or earlier, just look on the Internet for information about the author to see if they have published new information since that time. A good author will mention how often the material on their web site is updated. Some publishers may have new web pages and they forget to link their old page to the new one, leaving the reader with old information.
Tip # 4 — Check the sources. This is a good indicator of the current information. Some author’s will tell you exactly where they found their information and how you can check this information (either by a web page link or reference source). Some information is screened heavily by a publisher before and after it is published. Checking a publisher’s web site is another good place to start when you are checking the validity of the information you have researched.
Tip # 5 — Visit your library. A public librarian can help you if you are looking for ways to evaluate the current validity 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.
Tip # 6 — Check with a college or university professor on the topic. Many professors will tell you if the information you have gathered is still current information. You may find that information pertaining to arts and humanities hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years, whereas information about health and science changes on a daily basis.
Information that is collected by a scholarly source, such as a government organization or university, is sure to post updates or refer you to new publications. This information is can be trusted since it has to go through a large screening process before it will be accepted for publication.