Critical analysis of information sources

Critical analysis of information sources

Evaluating a source can begin even before you have the source in hand. You can initially appraise a source by first examining the bibliographic citation.

A bibliographic citation is a written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material.

Bibliographic citations characteristically have three main components: author, title, and publication information. These components can help you determine the usefulness of a source.

1. Author

  • What are the author's credentials -- educational background, past writing, or experience -- in this area? 
  • Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise?
    Who's Who publications, biographical sources OR the biographical information located in the
    publication itself can be used to determine the author's credentials.
  • Has your lecturer or supervisor mentioned this author? 
  • Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.

2. Year of Publication

  • When was the source published?
  • Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic?
  • Is this a first edition or not?
  • Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, or harmonize with its intended readers' needs. Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable.

3. Note the Publisher

If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have a high regard for the source being published. 

4. Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly journal or a popular journal? 
This distinction is important because it is indicative of different levels of complexity in conveying ideas. 

5. Content Analysis

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. Read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book.

  • Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers.
  • Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic.

6. Intended Audience

  • What type of audience is the author addressing?
  • Is the publication aimed at a specialised or a general audience?
  • Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

7. Objective Reasoning

  • Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? 
  • It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts. 
  • Does the information appear to be valid and well researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? 
    Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions. 
  • Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-rousing words or bias?

8. Coverage

  • Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?
  • Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature? 
  • Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. Scholars use primary materials to help generate historical interpretations -- a secondary source. Consult both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.

9. Writing Style

  • Is the publication organised logically?
  • Are the main points clearly presented?
  • Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy?
  • Is the author repetitive?

10. Evaluative Reviews

  • Locate critical reviews of books in a reviewing source, such as Book Review Digest or Book Review Index.
  • Many print and online periodical indexes also contain records of book reviews.
  • Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field?
  • Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic. 
  • Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among critics?

Source: Critical Analysis of Information Sources was adapted from Cornell University Library Model "Critically Analyzing Information Sources".

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