Evaluating Books and Articles
Look at the number of search results you were able to retrieve.
- If you retrieved more results than you expected and they don't seem to be relevant to your topic, you may need to add another concept or keyword to your search statement in order to narrow your search.
- If you retrieved fewer articles than you expected, perhaps your search statement was too narrow. You might want to take some keywords out of your search statement to create a broader search which will retrieve more articles.
- Look at the abstract or subject headings of the article citations you have retrieved to determine if they are relevant to your research.
Be sure to carefully examine the sources you find to determine if they will truly be helpful to you in your research. The questions below provide a starting point for evaluating a book, article, or other resource in four major categories: accuracy, content, author, and date.
- Accuracy-- Based on your knowledge of the subject, does this source seem to be accurate? Are any conclusions supported or backed up by convincing data?
- Coverage-- Does the source fully address the issues raised? Is the coverage comprehensive, or do you need additional sources? Is the source objective, or does it seem to be based on opinion?
- Authority-- Are the authors authorities in their fields? Have they published extensively on this topic? Are they and/or the publisher affiliated with a reputable university?
- Currency-- When was the source published? Is it current enough for your topic? Do you need to find similar sources that are more up-to-date? If the source is a book, is it the most recent edition?
Evaluating Web-Based Resources
Before using Web-based resources in your research, you should evaluate web pages to determine if they will be useful. In most cases you can apply the same criteria for evaluating books and articles to the evaluation of Web-based resources. However, it is important to remember that unlike scholarly publications, where articles are subjected to a process of review, anyone can publish on the Web. Webpages may also be designed to for commercial as opposed to educational use, so be conscious of potential bias.
The questions below will help you evaluate sources on the web. For a demonstration on evaluating websites, check out this video.
How did you find the page?
How you located the site can give you a start on your evaluation of the site's validity as an academic resource.
- Was it found via a search conducted through a search engine? Unlike library databases, the accuracy and/or quality of information located via a search engine will vary greatly. Remember, anyone can publish on the Web.
- Was it recommended by a professor, a librarian, or another reliable source? Was it cited in a scholarly or credible source? Was it linked from a reputable site? Generally, these references indicate a reliable source.
What is the site's domain?
The domain of a site (the portion of a site's URL following the last period) can provide indications of the site's mission or purpose. Common domains include:
- .org: An advocacy web site, such as a not-for-profit organization. Information on this site will likely promote the mission of the organization.
- .com: A business or commercial site. Information on this site will likely promote products, companies, etc.
- .net: A site from a network organization or an Internet service provider.
- .edu: A site affiliated with a higher education institution. Generally a reliable source of information.
- .gov: A federal government site. Information will likely be based on government research or may promote a department or agency's mission.
- .il.us :A state government site, this may also include public schools and community colleges. Like federal government sites, information will likely be based on government research or may promote a department or agency's mission.
- .uk: A site originating in the United Kingdom. Sites that originate in other countries will have a two letter domain.
- ~:The tilde usually indicates a personal page. This is generally not an indicator of a reliable source, as the information may not have been subjected to a review process.
What is the authority of the page?
Look for information on the author of the site. On the Internet anyone can pose as an authority.
- Is the author's name visible? Does the author have an affiliation with an organization or institution?
- Does the author list his or her credentials? Are they relevant to the information presented?
- Is there a mailing address or telephone number included, as well as an e-mail address?
Is the information accurate and objective?
There are no standards or controls on the accuracy of information available via the Internet.
The Internet can be used by anyone as a sounding board for their thoughts and opinions.
- How accurate is the information presented? Is there a bibliography included? Are sources of factual information or statistics cited?
- Compare the page to related sources, electronic or print, for assistance in determining accuracy. Does it resemble sources you know to be accurate?
- Does the page exhibit a particular point of view or bias?
- Is the site objective? Is there a reason the site may be presenting a particular point of view on a topic?
- Does the page contain advertising? This may impact the content of the information included. Look carefully to see if there is a relationship between the advertising and the content, or whether the advertising is simply providing financial support for the page.
Is the page current?
Look at the bottom of web pages for creation, update, and copyright dates. These can indicate the timeliness of the information and whether or not the page is actively maintained.
- Is the information provided current?
- When was the page created?
- Are dates included for the last update or modification of the page?
- Are the links current and functional?
Does the page function well?
A well-functioning page can indicate that a site is professionally and consistently maintained.
- Is the site easy to navigate? Are options to return to the home page, tops of pages, etc., provided?
- Is the site searchable?
- Does the site include a site map or index?
Information on this page based on guidelines from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University Library website.