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Research Strategies & Tips: Evaluate the Information You Find

This guide provides information on identifying topics, developing search statements, finding and evaluating sources, and using information ethically.

Some things to think about

You know it's important to evaluate information you find on the open web. It's also a good idea to evaluate other sources--even those from scholarly books and journals--to understand how the information and ideas they express are relevant to your research.

Although you may decide to use any or all of the information you find, you need to evaluate that information so that you understand where the information comes from and how the ideas are relevant to your research.

For example, if you choose to include biased information or out-of-date scientific theories, you must recognize those materials for what they are and indicate in your paper or presentation why that information is important within the context of your research.

Questions to ask

Questions to ask as you evaluate the sources you find and the information and ideas they present:

How do you intend to use this source?

  • Do you plan to cite this source as reputable information?
  • Do you plan to use this source to support your own argument?
  • Do you plan to critique this source as an example of bias about your topic?
  • Do you plan to argue with the ideas in this source?

Your intended use of a source will influence what answers you hope to get from the following questions.

Who is the author?

  • What are the author's credentials?
  • How easy is it to identify who wrote this information?
  • What is the author's educational background?
  • What is the author's area of expertise?
  • Have other scholars cited this author's work?
  • Did your professor or another expert recommend this author's work?
  • What organization sponsors or employs the author?

Why was the source written?

  • Is the information in it fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the author want people who read it to take some action? For instance, are you being persuaded to buy something or to vote for something?
  • Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Can you detect a bias?

How was it written?

  • Does the author tell how facts were gathered? Were they gathered from unbiased sources?
  • Is there any documentation offered, for instance, do you find a bibliography or other "credits"?

Why was it posted or published?

  • Who is hosting this website or publishing this book or journal?
  • What do you know about the company or group? Do they have a bias?

How stable is this information source?

  • Be aware that no one is keeping an archive of all the material on the web. If the author changes the page tomorrow, your source has disappeared. You may want to print and keep a copy of anything from a web site that you cite in a paper. Someone who reads your paper might need to view the source material that you used.