The act of thinking critically about the validity and reliability of a research resource generally involves asking yourself a series of questions about the quality of both the item and the content of that item.
Evaluating the Source
Inquiring about the Author
What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation (where he or she works), educational background, past writings, or experience? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?
Inquiring about the Date of Publication
When was the source published? Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic?
Inquiring about the Edition or Revision
Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with the intended needs of its readers. If you are using a Web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?
Inquiring about the Publisher
Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.
Inquiring about the Title of Journal
Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas.
Evaluating the Content
What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience? Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?
Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Note errors or omissions. Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic?
Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?
In the case of books, locate critical reviews of work in a database. Is the review positive? Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field? Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has are there strong differences of opinion? Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.
Critical Thinking. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Evaluating Sources. Lakeland Library Research Guides. Lakeland Community College; Evaluating Sources. [email protected] Colorado State University; Evaluating Print Sources. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Evaluation During Reading. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.