Selection of appropriate information is an important part of quality research. With so much information available, from so many different sources, each piece of information that you select must be carefully reviewed to ensure the authority, accuracy, and currency that best supports your research. Critical evaluation of the information you find is essential to quality research.tically evaluate these sources and pick the best ones.
Why be critical of information you find? Publishers usually have some level of "quality control" over the information they publish. However, this review process varies so much that your own assessment is important. For example, popular magazines usually only have internal editorial control over what is published. Quality control for this type of publisher is usually based on how well the publication sells. On the other hand, quality control for the publishing of a peer reviewed journal or a book from an academic press is based on it's acceptance by experts or specialists.
Some of the information for determining information quality may be readily apparent in the source itself. For example, a peer reviewed journal article reporting results of medical breakthrough would be accepted as good quality information, and only questioned by specialists in that field. However, were you to use a newspaper article describing this medical breakthrough, it would be wise to check additional sources to determine the quality and accuracy of the reporting.
There are subtle differences when evaluating different types of information. However, there are three criteria that you should consider with any type of information you consider using. You should ask - does the information source have authority, accuracy, and currency?
What information did you find to show that the author(s) or the source is credible? How did the information you find add to the authority of the author(s) or publication? If you did not find information on the author in the database, where did you find additional information on the author?
What evidence, such as references or footnotes, did the author(s) provide to demonstrate they are providing accurate information? If they did not provide any, how does this affect the quality and reliability of this resource?
Is the information up-to-date? If the information is dated, is it still suitable for the topic? How does currency matter for your topic?
If any of your sources do not meet these three criteria, you should consider finding other information.
Articles from periodicals will probably be the most numerous and important sources for your research. Since periodical articles include a wide range of publications, newspapers, popular magazines, and scholarly journals, you must be especially critical of which ones you use for your research. To be sure you are using the most accurate, current, and appropriate information for your research, carefully choose the periodical sources you use.
Periodical articles usually go through some review process, but differ depending on the type of periodical. Newspapers and popular magazines usually have staff writers who are responsible for writing the articles. These writers may or may not be experts in their area of writing. Scholarly journals publish articles that have a more rigorous review process, and are usually the best choice of information for your research.
The most important skill needed to evaluate periodicals is the ability to distinguish between popular and academic, or scholarly journals.
Just like in book publishing, the reliability or authority of the periodical can be related to the periodical's publisher. Periodicals may be published by professional associations or societies, by universities, by associations, or by publishers that have gained a reputation from many years of publishing in a certain subject area.
Evaluate a scholarly article (academic or peer-reviewed journal) using these criteria:
Authority: Is the author an expert in the field or is the publisher well known?
Accuracy: Is the information correct and based on proven facts?
Currency: Is the information up-to-date?
Scholarly Article Evaluation video (2:59 min):
The above criteria work nicely for evaluating scholarly periodical articles. However, when choosing newspaper or popular magazine articles, you often will not find an author listed, and seldom will find any references to sources of information. When evaluating articles that are not scholarly, you need to be more critical of the content of the article.
Evaluate popular magazine and newspaper articles with these additional criteria:
- On what type of audience is the article focused - general or specialized? For example, an article in Newsweek is written for a general audience, whereas Business Week articles are intended for an audience familiar with business topics.
- Is the article written in easy to understand language or is it technical and advanced? In a college level research project, you probably wouldn't want to use an article intended for an elementary school audience.
- Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? Make sure the facts that are presented can be found in another source.
- Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Once again, check to see if you can find the same information presented in another source.
- What is the purpose? Is the intention to inform, teach, entertain, enlighten, sell or persuade? Is there a political, social or commercial agenda? Remember that the main objective of these publications is entertainment, advertising, and marketing certain viewpoints.
- Is the information objective or is the viewpoint biased? Read enough of the article to make sure the author is objective and impartial. Again, these publications often survive on what can be sold to their customers.
- Does the article update other information, or back up other information you've found? Is it comprehensive, meant to give you all the information on the subject, or does it cover a narrow aspect of the topic? One value of magazine and newspaper articles is that they are good sources for differing viewpoints on controversial subjects. However, it's important that you explore enough sources to have a variety of viewpoints.
- Is the information unique? Could you find the same or better information in another source
As you should realize at this point, because of the lack of publication control for newspaper and popular magazine articles, there's much more effort required to choose good articles.
You should be able to apply the above criteria to an article and make a confident choice to pick the best information for your research. If you're still unsure you've found the most appropriate and up-to-date information for your topic, ask a librarian for help!