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* Toolbox Information literacy skills: Search, Find and Evaluate Sources: Evaluating/Assessing sources

Searching,finding, evaluating and managing sources made easy

Kick off: Why evaluating sources is useful for finding the information you need

On this page, we want to highlight why it is important to assess the quality of a source. The quality and relevance of a source are not measured from what type of source it is (see the previous page) but heavily rely on who wrote the information down, what was the purpose of publishing the information in the first place and does it actually fit your need regarding your research.  The knowledge clips and texts you find here will give you several criteria and guidelines for assessing your sources on the basis of these criteria.

In your search for literature and other sources, you will find all sorts of information, but this information is not always accurate or of good quality. It is important to develop a critical eye that will enable you to evaluate the material properly.

 

Is this the source you really really want, practise and find out.

This matrix enables you to allocate a score between 1 (low) and 5 (high) as an indicator of
the value of an item of information, for example, a website, journal article, or book, using five criteria. The criteria are the following ‘5 Ws’:
• Who is the author?
• What is the relevance of points made?
• Where is the context for points made?
• When was the source published?
• Why: what was the author’s reason/purpose for writing the source? 

You can download the full version of the matrix below.

Evaluating your sources, how to go about this.

Relevance

Information is relevant when it helps you to answer your research question. You assess the information on the basis of format, content, and degree of up-to-dateness.

Does the information relate to your research question and the aim of your research?

Ask yourself the following questions:

* Does the information answer my research question?

* Are the quality and the level of the information appropriate to my research question and the aim of the research?

If you are conducting academic research into depression, an article from Cosmopolitan or Hello! will not provide information of the standard you require. Articles from academic journals are more appropriate. 

Which publications are most suitable depends on your information requirement. I.e. if you need current, in-depth information on a topic it is better to consult recent journal articles in stead of a handbook. And in preparation for writing a light-hearted article for Rolling Stone you are probably not going to study a monograph.

How complete is the information you have found?
Are you sure you haven‘t overlooked any relevant information? Have you considered all the selected opinions? Being comprehensive is usually not possible and also usually not necessary at this stage of your academic career.

Currency

The term ‘current’ usually refers to recent events or developments. In order to determine whether the information is current, check whether it still reflects the present situation. A book or article that was not written recently may still be current.

Usually, current information is required, but not always. The importance of this criterion depends on your research question.

Reliability

This refers to how sure you can be that the information is correct. How credible is the information? How objective is the information? There are several aspects to take into consideration when you are assessing how reliable your information is. These aspects relate to the origin of the information as well as its quality.

Authority of the source (author/organization) and origin of the document

* What do you know about the author? Is he an authority on the subject? Is he a recognized author in his subject area? Which organization does he work for?

* What do you know about the organization? Publications by well-known and respected organizations are generally more reliable than material published by vague charitable foundations with dubious or unclear objectives.

* Does the author or organization receive funding from sponsors? Sponsorship is not necessarily a problem, but be aware of any commercial interests that may be involved.

* Is the quality of the publication assessed? If so, is this done by editors? Are articles peer-reviewed?  Peer-reviewed articles are very reliable because they have been critically assessed by more than one expert/academic.

In this video, the CRAAP test is used to see whether a source can be useful or not. However, the first letter here is not a C for Currency, it is here replaced by the letter T for timeliness which both refers to the same thing when scrutinizing your sources.

This video gives a clear explanation of how to assess sources using the CRAAP test

The video shows how to evaluate online sources through lateral reading, a tool used by professional fact-checkers, to find additional information about the source's credibility.

Researchers record the results of their work in academic articles. The aim of these articles is to inform other researchers about research findings and to lay claim to the findings as new and original insights. Such claims are not usually acknowledged by other researchers until the article has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

See for more information What is peer review and how does peer review work in practice? 

You can also watch the video about peer-reviewing.