Evaluating Information

EVALUATING RESEARCH and other SCHOLARLY WRITING, as well as POPULAR NON-FICTION, is an important part of the college curriculum. Before evaluating the research or other writing for intrinsic merit and usefulness for the paper you are preparing, you will evaluate the citations you find. Included here are suggestions for evaluating citations and for evaluating the contents of the articles and books you read.


The following criteria should be considered when selecting sources of information:

1. Date of publication. This is equally important for encyclopedia, almanac, book, journal or magazine. Some topics receive more or less attention in a given time frame. Sometimes the past is more relevant than only the most recent. The cycle of publication can be long or short. A current publication date can be about data collected many years ago. Both dates should be considered.

2. Types of documents. Where is the appropriate information to be found? Sometimes valuable information is found in unexpected sources. Some electronic and paper indexes include more than periodical article citations. You may select government reports, research grant reports, papers or talks given at meetings, book reviews, booklets, audio-visuals, etc. as sources of information. A growing number include many full-text articles.

3. Type of periodical. Your instructor may have restricted the type(s) you may use such as only scholarly or research. Some topics are discussed only in specific types of periodicals. The three types are:

Scholarly journals - research reports and scholarly writing. Titles often include "journal" somewhere in the title but many journals do not.

Trade or professional journals - specific to a particular industry, occupation or business. They have a high percentage of information useful to persons in an occupation. Some have some scholarly articles but the bulk is advice, guidance, and general professional information.

Popular magazines - general interest publications rather than scholarly/research. Often have much valuable introductory information for which you need to find the scholarly sources.

4. Newspapers. Many periodical indexes include citations to and full text of major newspapers. Some libraries have indexes to local or regional newspapers. The assignment or chosen topic will govern the acceptability of newspaper articles.

5. Length of document. One of the frustrations after locating articles cited in an index is to discover how brief it is. Note the length of the article if indicated when searching a periodical index. Newspaper and general interest publications often have very small articles appearing in index databases. If full text in a database, the length is easily apparent.

6. Subject or content. The citation itself is sometimes a clue to the utility of the entire document. Subject headings listed; words in the title, the author and title of the journal, abstract or annotation (if provided) all provide information for evaluating whether or not to seek the entire document.

7. Language. Do you want information only in specific language(s)? Select accordingly.

After selecting citations and accumulating the articles and other information, it is necessary to assess the quality of the content, as well as its appropriateness for inclusion in your references. The following guidelines will assist you in this.

1. What is it?

Research - Does it state a problem, method, analysis, findings? What kind of research? Some types are listed here and may be used in combination.

  • Qualitative - descriptive research where the differences in variables are in kind rather than amount.
  • Quantitative- research where values represent different amounts along a measurable continuum.
  • Survey - compilation of responses to pertinent questions.
  • Case Study - description of one or more individuals experiencing a set of conditions.
  • Empirical - direct observation and measurement of characteristics.
  • Experimental - when certain variables are controlled or manipulated by the investigator.

Essay - Is it literary, political or scientific opinion, observation or argument?

News reporting - journalistic writing can be about people or events. It may refer to research or scholarly essays which should be found to read for oneself to include in a paper or assignment.

Artistic writing - criticism of poetry, novel, short story, humor. May be an essay.

2. Critique

These questions can be asked of any reference, although they are phrased for research articles.

Does the title communicate the content?
Is the problem or point of view clearly stated?
Is there a theoretical or scholarly basis for the work?
Is the hypothesis specifically stated or otherwise apparent?
Are references cited where relevant in footnotes or bibliography?
Is the method well described?
Are the subjects or sources carefully described?
How was randomnicity applied and maintained, if required?
Do the sections form a cohesive whole?
Is data adequately described?
Is the data from primary sources?
Is the statistical analysis carefully described, appropriate and logical? Even if more sophisticated than easily understood, is a rationale for use given?
Are the graphs, charts and tables helpful or misleading?
Are the graphs, charts and tables interpreted in the body?
Do the conclusions fit the data?
Is the abstract or summary representative of the contents?
Is possible bias described?
Are limitations of the study and application of findings described?

3. Appropriateness to my paper.

Is the source acceptable and/or acceptably authoritative?
Is the content relevant to the information I plan to present?
Does it support the position I am presenting?
Are there any appropriate quotes which I can use?
Will I need to paraphrase results?