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Getting Started with Research at Shapiro Library

This guide discusses understanding information sources, formulating a topic and search phrase, where and how to search the library for information, how to evaluate sources, how to cite sources, and more.

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources

As you begin your research you will probably find lots of information from many types of sources. When you are college and in most professional settings after college you will be expected to use high quality sources of information for your work. As you gather information for your research projects, you'll find many sources in many formats such as books, articles from databases, Web documents, interviews, videos, and more.

Here are five criteria to evaluate the sources you find:

Relevancy - Does it answer your question or contribute to your research?

When considering the relevancy of a source, there are several things to ask yourself:

  • Is the scope of the source is appropriate for your research? Does the source provide a general overview of your topic or is it focused specifically on a single aspect of your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience for the source? Is the information too basic or too technical? Does it assume you have prior knowledge about the topic?
  • How many sources have you found? Have you searched thoroughly enough to find the most relevant sources available?

Currency - Is the content presented current enough for your project?

When considering the currency of a source, ask yourself:

  • Was this source published recently or is it older? Does your research call for the use of very current sources (e.g. medical research) or can you use older sources (e.g. historical research)?
  • If you are evaluating a website or other frequently updated source, does the website list the date it was last updated and is the date current enough for your research?

Accuracy - Is the information provided correct?

When considering accuracy, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the source been edited or peer-reviewed?
  • Has the author supplied a list of references for their work? Does the list of references include scholarly sources?
  • Does the source include spelling or grammatical errors? Is the source logical, well organized, and professional in appearance?

Authoritativeness - Does the author have expertise on the topic about which he/she is writing?

When considering authoritativeness, ask yourself:

  • Who is the author? Is he or she a subject expert on the topic? What are the author's credentials?
  • Is the source sponsored or published by a reputable organization or institution?

Objectiveness - Is there bias or a slant given to the information provided?

When considering the objectiveness of a source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What point of view does the author represent? Is the source arguing for or against something? Does the source contain mostly factual information or is it opinion-based?
  • Is the source associated with an organization or institution that is known for promoting a certain point of view or opinion?

Note: It's okay to use information from sources that contain strong arguments or opinions, but it's always a good idea to acknowledge the author's view.

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Evaluating Websites

It is particularly important that you evaluate any web resources you use (e.g. websites, blogs, wikis, etc.) because there is no editorial process for the web and anyone can post anything online. When evaluating web resources it is important to pay attention to details and examine these six main criteria:

So, how do you evaluate the information you find on the internet? Pay attention to the details! You'll want to examine the author, audience, date, content, purpose, affiliation, design, advertising, mission statements, contact information, etc. on each website you visit to determine the accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, functionality, reliability, credibility, and validity of the site.

Check out these resources for additional help:

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What About Library Resources?

In most cases, the books you get from the library and articles you find in the library's research databases are usually reliable and credible. These sources have usually gone through a traditional editorial process, which means that someone or some group has checked all the facts and arguments the author made and deemed them suitable for publishing. However, you still have to think about whether or not the book or article is current and relevant for your project--for example, library's often subscribe to popular magazines like "People" and "Vogue" which aren't generally considered scholarly sources.

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