Critical thinking is an important part of the research process. You need to be able to critically evaluate the information resources that you find before you decide to use them to support your academic work.
With so many resources available to you, it is essential to develop a list of criteria that will enable you to evaluate and compare different sources of information. This list should be structured and meaningful but flexible enough to cover a range of different types of resources.
Cornell University Library has an excellent webpage for critically analysing information sources which includes:
Author: Who is the author and what are their credentials?
Date of publication: When was the resource published and is it out-of-date for your own research needs?
Edition or revision: Is it a first-edition or has it subsequently been revised by the author?
Publisher: If it is a university publisher, then the work will likely be of academic standard.
Title of journal: Is the journal scholarly or professional?
Audience: Who is the intended audience of this work?
Objective reasoning: Is the information covered fact, opinion or propaganda?
Coverage: You need to make sure that you read widely so that you have a variety of viewpoints on a particular topic.
Peer review involves a panel of academic subject specialists reading and commenting on articles and books before they are published to ensure that the information is factually accurate, appropriate and up-to-date.
Academic books and scholarly articles have generally been through a rigorous peer-reviewed evaluative process before they are published, so a lot of the initial evaluation has been done for you, but it is still important to examine whether these sources are suitable for your specific research purposes.
Always evaluate the websites that you use, for:
Accuracy: can you rely on the information provided on the website?
Authority: who has written the web pages and do they have the necessary knowledge or qualifications to do so?
Currency: are the pages up to date and regularly maintained?
Objectivity: Is there any inherent bias in the pages that you need to be aware of?
Coverage: Does the website provide enough information or will you need to look at a range of websites?
Gain evaluation skills by working your way through the Internet Detective, a free Internet tutorial.