Search for courses or information

Evaluating Information

This section focuses on evaluating sources. Deciding which sources will be useful to you, and which ones to filter out is a key skill.

Evaluating information

It is absolutely essential to evaluate the quality of any information you want to use in your assignment. 

You need to develop critical thinking skills in order to make the right judgements about any information you want to use. Critical thinking means that as you read you are:

  • identifying the main issues
  • recognising underlying assumptions
  • evaluating evidence
  • evaluating authorities, people and publications
  • recognising bias, emotional appeals, relevant facts, propaganda, generalities and language problems
Your reading list and the Library Search are good places to start looking for information because the sources have been quality checked by the lecturers and Library staff who have selected and purchased rights to use them.

The advice in this section will help you learn to evaluate the quality of the information you want to use in your assignments. They apply to every kind of information resource.

Evaluating Criteria

When you evaluate information you need to think critically about who wrote it and why, how relevant it is for your needs and whether it is sufficiently up-to-date.

Not all information is good quality information. You will lose marks if you use poor quality information in your assignments. The following criteria will help you decide whether a source is suitable to use:

• Authorship: who wrote or produced it? What was their reason or purpose for writing or creating it? Are they biased?
• Relevance: is it appropriate for your topic, your argument, this level of study?
• Currency: is it up-to-date? Is there anything more recent?

With practice, you will find you automatically start to evaluate everything you read as a matter of course. Follow the links to each of these criteria for a more detailed explanation. Download the guide to Evaluating information for a useful summary. If you need more advice on the suitability of a resource, ask at the library enquiry desk, consult your Subject Librarian or use the online Ask-A-Librarian service.

    Always check the credentials of the author whose work you are reading, whether it is a person or an organisation. Find out if they are an authority and check their motives for possible bias.

    When reading a piece of literature, the first thing you should question is the authority behind that piece of work. The questions below will help you decide if you can trust the author. In general, text books are carefully reviewed by publishers or editors for the quality of their content but you still need to use your critical thinking skills when reading books as they may contain biased information.

    • Is this person known and respected in their field? 

    • Do they have academic status such as Doctor, Professor or Reader?

    • Have they published widely on this subject?

    Check the Library Search for other books by that author and see if they are listed in the references of other books on the subject. This will give some indication of their authority.

    • Is this person objective?

    • Are they working for or sponsored by an organization that wants to sell you a product? For example, an article commissioned and produced by a well-known mobile phone provider might not be suitable for an essay on the impact of telephone masts on the environment.

    • Could the author have a reason for trying to convert you to their view point, such as political or religious beliefs?
    Try to check the information with similar articles published in a peer-reviewed journal as they are peer-reviewed by academics and so highly trustworthy.

    Authorship

    Even good quality information needs careful examination to make sure it is directly relevant to your particular assignment.

    Ask yourself why a particular book, article or other piece of literature might be useful to support your argument or approach. Abstracts are a quick, easy way to see the main topics and angles of a book or journal article without needing to look through it all.

    Think about the scope and the focus of any piece of information. Are you looking for general facts, specific data, a focus on one country or the whole world? Does the information you have found match what you need?

    You should also think about the level of the information. A Ph.D thesis or high level research paper might be too advanced and detailed for your needs but something written for GCSE students will be too basic.

    Remember, even information of the highest quality may not necessarily be relevant for your current topic and from that point of view should not be used.

    Relevance

    The date of publication will help you decide whether a source is current or out-of-date.

    Currency depends on your subject. Fast-changing fields within Computing and Science may require more up-to-date materials than Humanities and Social Sciences, which often have classic texts that it is important to read. If your assignment has a historical context, then you will need to use both new and old information and, in this case, the older information is not out-of-date.

    Check when a book was published by looking for the copyright date on the back of the title page, usually a few pages into the book. Make sure you are reading the latest edition of a book by looking in the Library Search as textbooks are updated frequently. Check whether the information you have found is up-to-date by searching carefully for any newer resources. If nothing has changed since something was written, then it will be useful no matter how old it is!

    Journal articles almost always contain more up-to-date information than books.

    Currency