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Critical Evaluation

One of the basic skills of the research process is learning how to quickly appraise the relevance and authority of a given resource. This is true whether you are using books, periodicals, or the Internet.

Before you use a source for your paper or speech, you should critically evaluate it. Evaluating a source should begin even before you have the material. Examine the bibliographic citation-- the written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material. Bibliographic citations typically have three main components: author, title, and publication information. These components can help you determine the usefulness of this source.

Evaluating the Source of the Information

  • How did you find the source of information? Did you use an index, a review or references from other works?

  • What type of source is it? Is it scholarly, popular, governmental, private? The distinction is important because it will indicate levels of complexity in conveying ideas.

  • What are the authors’ or editors’ qualifications for this topic: education, experience, occupation, position, affiliation, publications? Sometimes this information can be determined by checking in Who’s Who in America or the Biography Index.

  • When was the information published? Is it a first edition, a revision, a reprint or a rerun?   Is the information current or out-of-date?

  • In which country was it published or produced?

  • What is the reputation of the publisher, producer or distributor? Is it a university, an alternative press or a private/political organization? Does the publisher stand to gain from the research presented?

  • Was the material reviewed or edited for publication?

  • Does the source show political or cultural biases?

  • Is a bibliography or other forms of documentation included?

  • What is the best format for accessing the information? Consider the cost, time, ease of use.

  • Is it organized so you can easily access the information you require?

Evaluating the Information Content

  • What is the author's intent or purpose? Read the preface to determine this.

  • What are the main points or concepts? Review the table of contents and index to get this.

  • Who is the intended audience? Is it a specialized or general resource? Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-rousing words and bias?

  • Is the information too elementary, too technical or advanced, or just right?

  • What facts and opinions are presented? Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?

  • Are various points of view represented?

  • Is this a report of primary research: surveys, experiments, observations?

  • Is it well-researched, or instead, questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.

  • Is the source organized in a logical manner for the subject?

  • What are the major findings?

  • Are the conclusions justified by the information presented?

  • Is there adequate documentation: bibliography, footnotes, credits, quotations?

  • Is this information verified in other sources in the discipline?

  • Do experts agree on the findings?

  • Do the findings support or refute your original ideas on the topic?

Coverage

  • Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?

  • Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? Explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.

  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.

Writing Style

  • Is the publication organized logically?

  • Are the main points clearly presented?

  • Is the text easy to read, or is it stilted, choppy, obtuse, verbose, etc.?

  • Is the author's argument repetitive?

Evaluative Reviews

  • Locate critical reviews of books in a reviewing source, such as Book Review Index, Book ReviewDigest, InfoTrac.

  • Is the review positive?

  • Is the book considered a valuable contribution to the field?

  • Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.

  • Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among the critics?

How to Evaluate What You Find: http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/evaluate.html