Library Research Skills
Evaluating printed information
Every book, article, or other resource must be evaluated to determine its quality and its relevance to your topic. The criteria below can help you evaluate materials you find in the Library.
Can you determine the author's credentials (such as education, current position, etc.)?
Is the author qualified to write authoritatively on a certain topic?
Date of Publication
When was the book or article published?
Is the date of publication appropriate for your topic? Information in the sciences is updated frequently, and research on scientific topics demands up-to-date information. However, research in the humanities and some social sciences is not so dependent on currency of information, and older materials may prove extremely appropriate.
Do you recognize the name of the publisher? Probably not. There are thousands of publishers, and it is impossible to know the reputations of all of them. In general, if the publisher is a university press, say Oxford University Press, the source is scholarly. Other publishers have excellent reputations and are well known in certain disciplines.
Title of Journal
If you are doing research in journal literature, it is critical to determine if the journal you are looking at is considered scholarly, popular, or trade. The type of journal indicates the level of research in the articles and the authority of article authors.
Who did the author write the work for? Others in his field? The general population? Knowing the intended audience of a book or an article can assist in determining its appropriateness for your research. If the author intended his or her work to be enjoyed by the general public, it may not be sufficiently scholarly for your purposes. However, if the targeted readers are other experts in an esoteric field, you may have trouble following the discussion. Determine if the intended audience of a source is right for your needs.
It is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish solid research and logical arguments from propaganda and flights of reason. When reading material, ask yourself if the assumptions the author makes are reasonable. Can you determine if the author has researched extensively in this field? Or are his or her sources difficult to verify?
It is wise to look at an author's choice of words. Some words and phrases are emotional powder kegs -- learn to recognize when you are being subjected to propaganda or when an author is playing on your emotions.
First, determine whether the source is a primary or secondary source. (Consult Primary vs. Secondary Sources for assistance.)
Does the material cover your topic as you thought it would? If it looks at your research topic only marginally, you may need to select other sources. Does it provide background information or does it focus on a more specific area or problem?
What does this source add to what you already know about your topic? Is it updating what has been established in a field? Have you read similar facts and interpretations in other sources? Remember, you will need to consult a number of sources to get a well-balanced view of your topic.
Evaluative reviews can assist you in critiquing library materials. Evaluative reviews of books and articles are almost always written by other experts in a field or discipline. Also, evaluative reviews often mention other comparable works and give value judgements as to their respective worth's.
Catherine Cardwell, Library Instruction Coordinator.
Bowling Green State University , Bowling Green, OH 43403,
Copyright © 1999-2005. Bowling Green State University. Last modified: 06 December 2005 19:47:16
To locate evaluative reviews, use the following:
- Research Aids
- Electronic Indexes