Isothermal Community College logo Library Isothermal Community College Library
Last updated 7/21/14
Isothermal Community College
P.O. Box 804, Spindale NC 28160
(828) 395-1307  fax (828) 286-8208

Charles P. Wiggins, Director of Library Services

Evaluating Resources

A major part of information literacy is developing the ability to think critically...

"Barry Beyer...has defined critical thinking as 'the assessing of the authenticity, accuracy, and/or worth of knowledge, claims and arguments.' Essential to critical thinking is the willingness to question. Critical thinkers recognize underlying assumptions, evaluate evidence, question whether facts support conclusions, question the adequacy of data, and evaluate people and publications..."

--In Research Misconduct: Issues, Implications, and Strategies, edited by Ellen Altman and Peter Hernon, Greenwich, CT., Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997.

Examining a book or periodical (magazine/journal/newspaper) with the following questions in mind will help you determine the validity and appropriateness of a publication for research.

a) What is the author's or editor's purpose? Often books have an introduction or preface at the beginning that provides clues to the book's focus, content and purpose. Some periodicals have a statement of editorial philosophy within the beginning pages of each issue.

b) Does the author, editor or publisher have a bias? Introductory statements, as described above, may give clues that an author or publication may be presenting only one side of an issue. Sometimes a potential for bias is obvious from the name of the organization that published the materials, such as Right to Life. If you determine that there is a bias, it does not mean you should discard the item; just be sure to consider the bias if you choose to use the materials.

c) What methods of data gathering and analysis were used? If research results are reported or used to support conclusions, reputable sources report how information was gathered and analyzed. The methodology may be described in the text or in the introduction or preface. Often, copies of the survey instruments that were used are included within the publication.

d) Is documentation used to support statements and ideas that come from other sources? If an author or editor uses materials from others, credit should be given within the text of the publication or in footnotes or endnotes.

e) Are the sources that the author or editor used included? Check for a "Works Cited," "References," or "Bibliography" section, usually at the end of the article or book. This information gives credit to others for material used, facilitates examination of source documents to verify information or results, and allows the reader to obtain more information on the subject.

f) What are the author's qualifications? Well-known authors may be found in biographical indexes; author's credentials are often published within scholarly books and articles.

g) Is the journal or magazine listed in a directory? Check Magazines for Libraries in the Reference collection for an evaluation of purpose and content of many print or online periodicals.

h) Is the journal or magazine found in a subject index or general index, such as the Readers' Guide? Periodicals that are chosen for indexing are usually reputable, and often scholarly. Journals are often "peer-reviewed" (examined by others in the same field of study.)


I.  How to Tell the Difference Between Scholarly Work & Propaganda
Definitions:  Scholarship: "academic works"   Propaganda:  "publicity to promote, or misleading publicity" 
--Encarta World English Dictionary, c1999.  

Indicators of Scholarship Indicators of Propaganda
  • Relies on critical thinking skills.
  • Describes limits of research or data.
  • Presents accurate description of alternate viewpoints.
  • Includes counter-examples.
  • Updates information.
  • Settles disputes by use of generally accepted criteria for evaluating data.
  • Admits own ignorance.
  • Encourages debate, discussion and criticism.
  • Devalues critical appraisal.
  • Presents information and views out of context.
  • Suppresses contradictory views.
  • Relies on personal attacks and ridicule.
  • Uses emotional appeals and inflammatory language.
  • Transforms words and statistics to suit purpose.
  • Excessive claims of certainty, i.e., one "right” way of thinking.
  • Appeals to popular prejudices.

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II.  Aspects To Consider When Evaluating Electronic Resources

Note that most NC LIVE sources are electronic versions (in databases) of information from magazines, journals, newspapers, and books. This information is usually reliable and recent, and it is easily documented because there are citations that give the source of the information.  On the other hand, information on WWW (Internet) sites may not be reliable, recent or easily documented.  It is important to analyze ALL information to make sure it is appropriate for research purposes, but be particularly cautious to check for reliability and accuracy when using information from the WWW.  Be sure to collect citation information, including date of retrieval for each article or site you may use.  Consider the following aspects of Internet sites to determine their reliability.

Authorship
  • Is it clear who the author of the webpage is?
  • Are the qualifications of the author included?
  • Is contact information for the author available?
Sponsorship
  • Is it clear who the sponsor of the page is?
  • Is the sponsor a respected institution or organization?
Content & Coverage
  • What seems to be the purpose of the website: to inform, to convince, to sell merchandise, to entertain?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the value of the content in comparison to other available resources on this topic?
  • Is the topic covered adequately?  Are there obvious aspects that are omitted without explanation?  
Currency
  • Is the publication date of the information present? 
  • Has the site been revised or updated recently?
  • Do links seem to be up-to-date and workable?
Documentation
  • Does the page contain a list of resources used, or is there an explanation of where the information was obtained?
Accuracy
  • How error-free is the information?
  • Does the author seem biased (seem to represent only one point of view)?
  • Is the information accurate when checked against other sources?

Adapted from a document developed by Karen Lutgens, General Reference and Documents Librarian; and revised and updated by Pam Day, Internet Reference Librarian, of Milner Library, Illinois State University, June 8, 2001. 

Domain Extensions

Domain names can provide valuable clues to the source and suitability of electronic resources.

.aero        = aviation
.biz          = business organization
.com        = commercial
.coop       = cooperative organization
.edu         = educational
.gov            = US Government
.info            = open domain
.int              = international organization
.mil             = US Dept of Defense
.museum     = museum
.name        = personal
.net            = network
.org            = organization
.travel         = traveling

Adapted from Norid. (2005). Domain Name Registries around the World. Uninett. Retrieved 13 June 2006 at http://www.norid.no/domenenavnbaser/domreg-alpha.html

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