One of the most important steps you can take in obtaining research is evaluating information and sources. Just because the information you have found matches your topic doesn’t mean it is a valid source. Information found on the Internet is particularly prone to being faulty due to the fact that anyone can publish information on the Internet and there isn’t a team to check the information before it is “live”.
So how can you properly evaluate the information you have researched? Begin with the basic “who, what, when, why, where” questions. Here are some steps to help you evaluate the sources and the information:
Step # 1 — Start by determining who is responsible for writing the article and who is responsible for publishing it. The author’s credentials should be easy to find. If it is an educational source, you should be able to find contact information for the author such as their e-mail or phone number. The publisher of the information should also have credentials listed on their web page or in the back section of the book.
Step # 2 — The “what” question pertains to the content, context, style, structure, completeness, and accuracy of the information. The writing style should be un-biased (unless you are looking for a biased opinion) and should have a balance in the topic you are researching. It is always easy to spot grammatical errors and other accuracy errors in the topic you are researching, so be sure to check for that. The content of the article should site outside sources as well. If it is a web page, it should link to other web sites for more information.
Step # 3 — You should always look for when the information was published. 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. If the information was updated recently, that should be clearly noted on the article or in the book, it should say something like “revision number 4”.
Step # 4 — Always find out why the author wrote the information that was published. Why is the author opinionated about the topic, was there a recent change in the economy that sparked the debate of this topic? Also ask yourself who the intended audience is and if the author clearly speaks to them.
Step # 5 — It is important to look for where the information was collected. If you are browsing the Internet for information, check the URL’s and pages that link to the article. This will help to establish credibility to the author and the publisher. You can also determine if this information is the author’s own work or if it was copied from another source.
A public librarian can help you if you are still looking for ways to evaluate information and their sources. 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. If you still can’t find information, you may need to look for a new source of information. This may indicate that the information you have found is faulty or is simply un-published by a large publishing company. A good author will copyright their work as well, so be sure to check for copyright information.