4. What did you find? Evaluating

click to view the audio interview about EvaluatingWe all know we can't believe everything we read. An all inclusive trip to Jamaica advertised for $200 is probably too good to be true, and it may have strings attached. It is important to evaluate the deal before making any decisions.

Similarly, as you find sources that seem to support your research question, you should evaluate them carefully. The amount of time you need to spend on evaluation varies with the scope of your project. An article for a discussion question may need cursory evaluation, whereas evaluation of sources for a large research project will take longer.

You must evaluate each source for credibility, relevance and timeliness before you include it in your writing. If you base your scholarly writings on questionable, irrelevant or untimely sources, you will not be able to support your thoughts and ideas effectively. As a scholarly researcher you will gain evaluation skills as you gain knowledge in your specialization. These skills build over time as you learn use the literature in your field.

Undergraduate-level Evaluation Criteria
As an undergraduate you begin to recognize well-known authors and journals in your field of study.

    1. Credibility. Authority.
  • Is the author credible? Is the author an authority on this topic?
  • What are the author credentials? Are they an expert in the topic they are writing about?
    2. Relevance. Accuracy.
  • Is the information relevant? Does it cover all parts of a topic? Is it accurate?
  • Do the title and abstract include relevant keywords to your topic?
  • Is the journal peer reviewed? (PDF)
    • Who is the intended audience? Academics? The general public?
  • Do the content details match with what you have learned in the courseroom or have experienced in your profession?
Checklist for Assessing an Author's Credentials
Use information provided in the book or article about the author's credentials. Use a search engine to find more information. For example, search Google for an author's name in quotes. Add the institution or company they work for to narrow your search.
  • What is the author's education or profession? Does it relate to the subject of the work?
  • With what institutions, organizations, or companies has the author been affiliated?
  • What other works has the author produced?
  • Do other experts speak of the author as an authority? Is the author considered seminal in the field?
  • Is the publisher academic (University press) or commercial?
    3. Timeliness.
  • Do you need current information? Is your source timely? If a source is not dated, what does that tell you about the source?
  • Are you looking for background or historical information? Are you looking for more seminal articles which tend to be older? In this case, the date of publication may not be as useful.
    4. Bias. Point of View.
  • Is there any obvious bias or wrong information?
  • Are the arguments based on opinions or facts, and are they backed up with citations?

Graduate-level Evaluation Criteria
Since graduate-level projects tend to be larger in scope and graduate learners have more experience with research, they should be evaluating materials by all of the criteria above as well as additional criteria. Keep in mind, depending on the project you are working on, you may need to be even more critical in your evaluation.

    1. Credibility. Authority.
  • Is the author considered seminal in his/her field?
  • Has there been a reaction in the professional or scholarly literature to the writings of this author?
  • What authors is this author citing?
  • Is the journal or publisher well known?
  • Where does this article fit within the literature of the field?
    2. Relevance. Accuracy.
  • Is the information accurate? Is the information valid?
  • Do the author's ideas support or refute current thinking in the field?
  • Are there methodological problems? Does the data collected support the conclusions?
  • Is the statistical analysis significant?
  • What is missing from the discussion?
    3. Bias. Point of View.
  • What points of view does the author have? Does the author belong to a particular school of thought?
  • What values or beliefs does the author have? Do those beliefs affect the author's writing?
  • Are multiple sides of the issue included? Can you use evidence to argue counter points?
  • What assumptions has the author made?
  • Are the citations from similar sources or from different sources?
View an example showing how to check for bias.

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