Long Island University C.W. Post Campus
C.W. Post Campus B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library

Library Workshop Manual : Section 4

Evaluate (i·val´·yoo·at´) v. to determine significance or worth by careful appraisal and study.

This is an older version of the manual. The newer version is at http://liu.cwp.libguides.com/officialcollege101guide


Evaluating Information

Evaluating sources can be a complicated process. There is plenty of information available that is inaccurate, fraudulent, or biased. So it is important to determine if the sources you find are factual and verifiable.

Items in a library are generally easier to evaluate because they have already been reviewed twice by the time you see them: first, by an editor who verifies that the information is accurate, and then a librarian who determines whether the item is appropriate for the collection. Freely available Web sources usually do not pass through the same scrutiny or review, so you will need to look at these items more closely.

Often times, the type of research you are doing will dictate how thoroughly you need to examine your sources. Therefore, you will probably be less critical of information gathered for your own personal interests than for a paper. As you know, academic research requires accurate and documented sources.

After completing this section, you should be able to:

  • evaluate sources of information using the criteria discussed
  • become familiar with ethics in the Information Age
  • describe when to cite a source
  • recognize the different parts of a citation
  • realize that you must think critically in a world of information



A Checklist for evaluating print sources of information

To determine if a print source is appropriate for your research, look at the following criteria:

Does the author have expertise to write on this topic?
Determine the expertise of authors by investigating what type of education they have, where they work, and what else they have written. To find this information, you might have to look in several places.

  • Use a reference source at your library, such as Who's Who, to find reliable biographical information.

  • Use a library catalog or periodical index or database to see if the author has written any other books or articles on the topic.

  • Look on the dust jacket or preface of the book to find biographical data.


Is the information in this source up-to-date?
The accuracy of your source may be affected by the date it was published. Some ideas once believed to be true were later disproved by new discoveries. Fields such as medicine or law might require more time-sensitive information than others.

To locate a date and determine whether the information is current enough:

  • Print items often have a publication date on the inside cover or title page.

  • If the author uses facts or statistics from another source, make sure they are properly cited with the date. You may want to confirm this information in the original source.

  • Check the library catalog or a library database to see if there is more recent information.


Does the publisher affect the information in the source?
Publishers may have their own agendas when they choose to publish books and magazines. For example, they may hire authors whose writing reflects the values of the publishing company. Your task is to identify the publisher of the source and determine whether its bias or policies influence the information. To help you decide, consider the following:

  • When using a print source such as a magazine or journal article, see if that periodical has a mission statement or is peer reviewed.

  • Do paid advertisements take up a significant portion of the source?


What do reviewers say about the source?
Since you can't be knowledgeable about every subject, you may need to rely on the opinions of analysts and experts. These people have read many articles and books in their field and often have practical experience. Though you may not agree with their conclusions, using their experience will help you evaluate your sources. To find reviews and criticism:

  • Ask your instructors for their opinions about your choice of sources.

  • Ask your librarian to help you identify the most appropriate database or reference source to find reviews.


Is the source appropriate for your research?
You and your instructor are the best people to determine if a source is appropriate for your assignment. Remember that all of your sources should contain well-supported arguments and valid research.

  • Check how statistics and facts were collected and to whom they are attributed.

  • Determine whether the source is an opinion piece.

  • Judge whether the source is popular or scholarly. Make certain that you are using the appropriate type of source for your assignment.

  • Bibliographies highlight the sources that influenced the author's work. Use the bibliography at the end of your source to find other related works.

  • Consider all the information you have gathered about the author, publisher, and date, and determine whether the source is appropriate for your information needs.


A Checklist for evaluating online information

The more you practice evaluating Web sources the faster and easier it will become. Eventually you will see that it is second nature for you to think critically and scrutinize the source of your information. In the meantime, here's a checklist to assist you in evaluating web-based information.


Is it credible?

  • Is the author of the page clearly identified? Do they have the credentials for writing about this topic?

  • Is the author affiliated with an organization? If so what is the nature or purpose of this organization?

  • Is there a link back to the organization's page or some other way to contact the organization and verify its credibility? (a physical address, phone number, or email address)

  • Are the purposes of the page clear?

  • Is it geared for a particular audience or level of expertise?

  • Is the primary purpose to provide information? To sell a product? To make a political point? To have fun?

  • Is the page part of an edited or peer-reviewed publication?

  • Does the domain name provide you with clues about the source of the page?


Is it accurate?

  • Are there obvious typographical or spelling errors?

  • Based on what you already know or have just learned about this subject, does the information seem credible?

  • Can factual information be verified?

  • Is it a comprehensive resource or does it focus on a narrow range of information? Is it clear about its focus?

  • Has the site been evaluated?


Is it timely?

  • Is it clear when the information was published? Is it current?

  • When was the page last updated?

  • If there are links to other Web pages, are they current?


Is it objective?

  • Is the source of factual information consistent and stated clearly?

  • Does the page display a particular bias? Is it clear and forthcoming about its view of a particular subject?

  • If the page contains advertisements, are the ads clearly distinguishable from the content of the information?


Does the site provide details that support the data?

  • When facts or statistics are quoted, look to see whether their source is revealed.

  • Is there a bibliography or other documentation to corroborate the information?


Ethics in the Information Age

The term ethics refers to a particular code of conduct which is based upon standards that everyone in a society can agree upon. In order for the Web to continue to flourish it is important that it be used in accordance with certain minimal standards of conduct. The following information relates to ethics and is provided in order to facilitate and communicate a "thinking process" which will help to foster the continued growth as well as preserve the reliability of information on the Web.


Copying Software

With so much information out there for free it is easy to lose sight of the fact that certain individuals or manufacturers do not want their software given away. Remember the old adage, "You get what you pay for" -- be mindful of the fact that bootlegged copies may come with the special added feature -- an uninvited virus!


Plagiarism

The idea of research is to study what others have published and form your own opinions. When you quote people, or even when you summarize or paraphrase information found in books, articles, or Web pages, you must acknowledge the original author.

If you use someone else's words or ideas without crediting them, you are committing a type of theft called plagiarism. Plagiarism can be as obvious as turning in another person's paper or project as your own or as subtle as paraphrasing sections of various works. It is also incorrect to copy text from Web pages or other sources without identifying where they came from.


How can you avoid plagiarism?

Take clear, accurate notes about where you found specific ideas. Write down the complete citation information for each item you use. Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words. Always credit original authors for their information and ideas.


Citing Sources

Citing (sit´·ing) ppl. noting the source of a quote, paraphrase, or idea as an authority or proof.

Citing is the process of giving credit to the sources you used to write your paper. Citations can be located in the text or at the end of the work in a bibliography. It can be difficult to figure out what needs to be credited.

Use this rule of thumb: If you knew a piece of information before you started doing research, generally you do not need to credit it. You also do not need to cite well-known facts, such as dates, which can be found in many encyclopedias. All other information such as quotations, statistics, and ideas should always be cited in your papers.


Anatomy of a Citation

As you create your list of cited sources, it is helpful to know what type of information you need to write down. Here is a citation from a database with each of its important parts labeled.

Parts of a Citation

Orenstein, David. There is Intelligent Life on the Web. Computerworld. 32:39-42. Nov 30 1999.

Author:

Orenstein, David.

Title:

There is Intelligent Life on the Web.

Title of Periodical:

Computerworld.

Volume:

32:

Page(s):

39-42.

Date:

Nov 30 1999.


Citation Styles

Formats for citing are consistent so that other researchers may quickly identify the sources you used and easily locate them. To find the guidelines for a particular format, you will need to look in a style manual. Your instructor will probably recommend a particular style manual such as APA, MLA, or Chicago Manual of Style. Each style manual format includes the same basic parts of that citation but may organize them slightly differently.

Look at the examples of citations in APA format:

Book:
Jennings, C. (2000). The hundredth window: Protecting your privacy and security in the age
       of the Internet.
New York: Free Press.

Article:
Higgins, M. (1999). High tech, low privacy. ABA Journal, 85, 52-58.

Web page:
Computer and Internet Security. (2000). Retrieved March 24, 2002, from Library of Congress
       Web site: http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/internet/security.html


What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is defined as the ability to assess the authenticity or accuracy of information claims or arguments. Living in an information rich environment requires that you recognize the dynamic and fluid nature of information and that you posses the skills necessary to successfully meet your information needs within this setting. In order to think critically, one must be information literate. Essentially, critical thinkers demonstrate that they can:

  • challenge information and demand accountability
  • adapt to new sources of information and continue to require credibility
  • avoid abrupt conclusions -- reserve judgment until they have more information
  • evaluate and re-evaluate sources on a regular basis

These skills are not inherent; rather, they are developed and require a conscious effort on the part of the information seeker. If you apply the skills outlined in this workbook, you will be well on your way to becoming a savvy user and consumer of information.


< Return to Main Menu

This material has been adapted from TILT, a site developed by the University of Texas System. Additional content created by : Mary Kate Boyd-Byrnes, Laura Manzari, Linda McCormack, Dona McDermott, and Andrea Rylander. Go to Next Section >

Return to Library Homepage

HTML by Robert Delaney
robert.delaney@liu.edu

Long Island University C.W. Post Campus Library Homepage