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Evaluate Your Information

You Found It But Is It Worthy?

You wouldn't buy a car just because the salesman told you it was a terrific deal and a great car. For the same reasons, you shouldn't accept information without evaluating it in some way. There are a number of issues to consider when evaluating information which are relevant whether you found the information in a printed source or on the Internet:

Authority -- Who wrote the piece?

  • Is the source of information easy to identify? A book or article should be signed by the author. On a web site, look for the name of the author or sponsor as well as addresses and phone numbers so you can authenticate the site.
  • What are the author's credentials? People can write about anything -- especially on the Internet. A chemist might write about school prayer or a sociologist could post a site about genetic engineering. However, training and expertise in one field does not make one an expert in any or all fields. If necessary, check biographical indexes or Who's Who to verify the author's expertise.
  • Did the author include primary as well as secondary resources? A primary source is the original source of the information and may include diaries, letters, research reports, and articles among others. A secondary source cites and interprets a primary source.

Accuracy -- While you don't want to spend all of your time checking sources, if something doesn't seem right or contradicts what you have read elsewhere, be sure to check it out.

  • Look for a bibliography. If there isn't one, you are probably reading someone's opinion. If a bibliography exists, look at the sources used by the author. Are they reliable scholarly resources, or is the author using opinion pieces and undocumented information?
  • Are there typographical, grammatical, or spelling errors? Inaccuracies in the presentation of the text may indicate sloppy research as well as writing methods. At the very least, it means the author probably didn't check their facts as well as his/her writing.
  • Is this a first edition? Books and sometimes articles can be revised to incorporate new information, to correct an omission or error, and to improve writing style or readability of the work. Also, multiple editions may mean that the work has become a standard and therefore a very good source.
  • Is the work a presentation of fact or opinion? A skilled writer can present an interpretation in such a way that it seems like a fact. Don't forget the old saying that you can prove almost anything with statistics. Look at the statistics presented and ask yourself if they were correctly gathered as well as appropriately applied.

Aim -- Does the author have a special purpose and if so, what is it?

  • Read the introduction. This is where an author will usually identify an intended audience and specific goals for the work.
  • There are two sides to everything. Does the work discuss as well as present multiple points of view? Has the author offered facts and statistics to support his/her perspective? Is the language objective, or is it intended to arouse or elicit an emotional response?
  • Has the author included current information which may contradict as well as support the theme of the work?

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Last Updated: 1 Sept 2009