Why evaluate sources?
In an academic context, evaluating the sources you have found and used is vital to ensuring the arguments you put forward are well evidenced. In a wider context, there has been much recent debate about 'Fake News'. What is the political and social impact of people accepting news whether it is true or not, whether the facts used have been checked or not?
Evaluating information will begin with establishing why you need the resource. These pointers should be seen as hints and tips for quickly evaluating whether a resource is useful for your piece of academic work.
Who has written it?
Is there a named author?
Can you find out more about the author? What else have they published? Are they affiliated to a particular company, charity or university?
Are there contact details for the author?
Why has it been written?
Who is the intended audience; academic, professional, or general public?
What is the purpose of the resource? To inform, educate, argue, promote? Can you detect a bias?
Whose voice is being expressed? The author's? Does the author claim to speak for others? Under what authority?
Is a sponsor evident?
When was the resource written?
Is this a recent piece, and what counts as recent in your subject?
If viewing online, is a 'last updated' date included?
Are any links in the resource still active?
How does it compare to other resources on the same topic; are there more recent pieces of information available?
Does the resource give you references to follow up?
Is it clear where information given within the resource comes from?
Are there references at the end of the text that you can follow up?
Double-check the information given
Is there another website that also considers the topic? How do they compare?
Is the subject covered on a fact-checking site such as Full Fact? (Remember to check the agenda of fact-checking sites too!)
Evaluation of information guide(.docx, 17kB)
Evaluation of information guide(PDF, 0.1MB)
Guidelines taken from SMILE and the Web Resources Evaluation Checklist by University of Brighton (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Where are you searching, and how?
Remember - evaluation should begin even at the search stage. This Channel 4 News report highlights some of the issues related to suggested searches in Google. Think carefully about what you are looking for and don't just accept the default options.
Search Success is based on SMILE by Imperial College, Loughborough University and the University of Worcester, modified by Information Learning Services at York St John University. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.