Evaluating information sources

Learning how to critically evaluate information is an important research skill. Use these techniques for information you find on websites and in books, journals, newspapers and magazines.

How did you find the information?

Where you found the information will help you determine its usefulness.

  • Searching the web, e.g. Google?
  • Searching the library?
  • Using the library databases?

What is the coverage and relevance?

The depth of coverage is a good indication of the usefulness of information. Is it:

  • giving facts that you already know are correct?
  • coming from a trusted source such as a database of peer-reviewed articles?
  • covered in appropriate depth or only at a superficial level?
  • relevant to your research topic?

Who is the intended audience?

Determining the intended audience will help decide the usefulness of the information.

  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Other academics or scholars
    • General public
  • Is it aimed at a particular age group e.g. children, teenagers?
  • Is there an intended bias towards groups with specific beliefs?

What is the purpose of the information?

Determining the information’s purpose will help decide the usefulness of the information. Is it:

  • designed to sell a project or service?
  • presenting research findings?

What level of language is used?

Language is a good indication of the usefulness of information. Is the language:

  • serious and scholarly?
  • inflammatory or sensational?
  • low level or inappropriate for that particular discipline?

How up to date is it?

Current information is important in some subject areas, such as information technology. In other subject areas, such as philosophy, information published several years ago may still be valuable.

  • Is the information up to date?
  • Do newer editions/revisions exist?

Does it have a reference list or bibliography?

The presence of a reference list or bibliography is one indication of quality.

  • Does the author provide sources for facts used and are those sources reliable e.g. Australian Bureau of Statistics?
  • What types of references have been used: scholarly (journal articles, books, conference papers) or popular (websites, blogs)?
  • The types of references indicate the level of research undertaken by the author/s.

Who is the author?

  • Is the author named? Are the author’s qualifications / credentials / affiliations given?
  • Can you identify an institution, if any, to which the author belongs?
  • Is contact information for the author included or easily accessible?
  • Has your lecturer or tutor mentioned this particular author?

Who published it?

Reputable publishers normally produce reputable information.

  • Do you know the publisher’s reputation?
  • What type of information does this publisher usually produce?

Evaluating websites

Use the techniques above to evaluate information you find on the internet. Also consider:

  • who is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the website?
  • are other information and links provided?
  • is the site subject to influences over content e.g. a commercial or political organisation?
  • are the pages current and updated regularly?
  • is the site user-friendly? Is there an index or site map or other links to the information?
  • is the layout of the site professional or amateurish?