Download a helpsheet on evaluating information [PDF].
When considering whether you should trust information from a
book, article, website, etc, and use it for your college-level
research paper, you might use the following evaluation
Who is the intended audience for the information being presented?
Some information is aimed at children or young adults—and may
therefore be over-simplified. Some resources, like newspapers and
radio programs are aimed at the public, so that information is
presented in a very general way. Some magazines or websites, like
“Computers Today” might be aimed at those who are already somewhat
knowledgeable on a topic. While still other types of resources,
like journals, dissertations, trade newsletters, or professional
reports are aimed at communicating with people who already have
Who is the person – or organization -- responsible for compiling
and presenting the information? Check to see if there is
information available on the author or authors. Do they have any
special experience or degrees that might make them a more reliable
source than someone else? If you cannot find an individual author
(or editor, or artist or director) is there a sponsoring
organization that might be considered reliable?
Fact / Opinion
While opinions can be important in shaping our world, rigorous
research aims at finding the facts before making statements about
interpretation of facts. Facts are verifiable. Opinions might
appeal to emotion, beliefs, cultural values, and they might be
supportable by facts, but -- ultimately -- opinions are open to
Fact: "Michael Bloomberg succeeded Rudy Giuliani as Mayor of New
Opinion: “Fiorello H. LaGuardia was the best Mayor New York City
Related to the fact/opinion assessment is the evaluation of bias. A
source might present only facts, yet still be biased. In evaluating
your source note whether the authors are presenting only those
facts which support their assertion, or appealing only to those
authorities who are in agreement. Are any other viewpoints,
including contrary or conflicting viewpoints being considered? Are
contrary facts being addressed?
Currency / Timeliness
Another evaluative element, and one that is related to factual
support, is the timeliness of the facts being presented. If an
argument relies on demographic statistics to prove a point about
immigration, the arguments ought to based on the most recent
information available. Natural and social sciences often require
use of the most up-to-date resources. Humanities research may use
both older and newer resources. While many resources in Philosophy
or Literature may be “timeless” in what they assert, carefully
consider whether the resource that supports your thesis statement
has a “time-sensitive” element, where a more current resource may
be necessary. For example, while the Catholic church has had a long
history of teachings regarding capital punishment and
social justice, a religion research paper on the topic ought to
include recent resources that address clarifications on carrying
out the death penalty and enacting social justice.
References help an audience to verify the facts of an argument, and
can be a good indicator of the quality of the author’s research.
Check whether your resource offers citations and references. Use
them to evaluate authority and timeliness, noted above. Do they
indicate bias? Are the references geared to a sophisticated
audience? Do they provide readers with the complete information
they would need if they wanted to verify the facts as stated by the
author, or if they wanted to learn more about the topic?
If you need some additional help with evaluating infomration
resources, talk to your professor or Ask us!