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Evaluating information

Evaluation

Once you've found some interesting sources to use in your research, it's important that you evaluate each of them. This means deciding whether they're trustworthy, reliable and of good enough quality for an academic assignment. The questions in the tabs below will help you to determine whether a source should be considered trustworthy:

What should you look out for?

Who are the authors? Individuals? Experts? Companies?

Who published it?

Why is this important?

Look out for bias and opinion pieces e.g. a pharmaceutical company publishing research that says their new drug is effective.

What should you look out for?

What is the information?

Is it useful to your project?

Why is this important?

It needs to relate to your question – try to keep a focus on the question not just the general topic.

What should you look out for?

When was it published? Recent? Dated?

Why is this important?

Often you will need the most current information to answer your question.

What should you look out for?

Where did you find the information: website, blog, book, journal or database?

Where was the research conducted?

Why is this important?

Always try to get your information from reputable sources e.g. textbooks, journals. Research conduced in other countries may not always be relevant.

What should you look out for?

How was the research conducted?

Is it representative?

How can you use it to answer your need?

Why is this important?

If it’s a piece of research, how did they conduct it? Were the method and sample size appropriate and representative?

Will it support points you are making?

What should you look out for?

Why was it written?

What are the motivations behind it?

Why is this important?

Look out for bias – see also ‘Who?’

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Phishing

Something I saw on the internet...

There's a lot of rubbish online. There's a lot of rubbish published more generally, for that matter. "Something I heard in the pub" is probably not a good indicator of credibility. The same has become true of "something I saw on the internet". In what is still a relatively new medium, the codes and signifiers of what constitutes a reputable source are still somewhat muddy, which is in part why fake news stories have been able to outperform mainstream media in terms of Facebook shares. Such 'fake news' can take many forms:

  • satire or parody - no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool
  • false connection - when headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content
  • misleading content - misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual
  • false content - when genuine content is shared with false contextual information
  • imposter content - when genuine sources are impersonated
  • manipulated content - when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive
  • fabricated content - new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm

Take a look at the IFLA's guide to spotting fake news, and have a go for yourself on the Factitious game, below: