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PHYS 2080 - Physics Seminar: Evaluate Your Sources

Search for scientific literature effectively

Evaluation of Information Sources

Just because you see it in print or on your computer screen, do not assume it is accurate or reliable! To evaluate the credibility of an information source, these are the several key aspects to consider:

  • Authority of the author and the publisher - are they well qualified to speak to the topic at hand?
  • Objectivity of the author
  • Quality of the work
  • Coverage of the work
  • Currency - how recently was the research done or the work published?

The following tables provide a framework for investigating these aspects of an information source, no matter it is an article in a journal, newspaper; a book; a web site or a government document. However, not all questions will apply in all situations. These questions are intended to help you think critically about different information sources.




Questions Answers

Who is the author?

What are the author's credentials/qualifications?

  • Institutional affiliation (where does the author work?)
  • Previous publication
  • Relevant university degree
  • Relevant field or employment experience


Look in these tools for information about the author:
What is the author's reputation among his/her peers? 
  • Cited in articles, books or bibliographies on the topic
  • Mentioned in your textbook or by your professor
  • Use citation indexes database (Web of Science) to find articles citing your author
Who is the publisher?
  • Commercial, trade, institutional, etc
  • Editorial board
  • Mission, values and goals
  • Specialization
  • Known for quality and/or scholarly publication
  • Search for the publisher's Web site
  • Look for editorial guidelines (e.g. Elsevier)




Questions Answers
Does the author state the goals for his/her work? In other words, what is the publication purpose?
  • Inform, explain, educate
  • Advocate, opinions
  • Persuade or dissuade
  • Sell a product or service
Read the foreword, preface, abstract, introduction and conclusion.
Does the author exhibit a particular bias?
  • Commitment to a point of view
  • Acknowledgement of bias
  • Presentation of facts and arguments for both sides of a controversial issue
  • Twisted interpretation of data
  • Use of sensational words

Read the abstract and/or introduction

Examine the work for

  • Arguments or supporting facts
  • Inflammatory language
  • Propaganda
  • Author's arguments or supporting facts
  • Author's conclusions
Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched?
  • Reasonable assumptions and conclusions
  • Arguments and conclusions supported by evidence
  • Opposing points of view addressed
  • Authoritative sources cited
  • Verify facts and statistics with a reliable source
  • Examine cited sources for authority and objectivity




Questions Answers

Is the information logical, well-organized and supported by evidence? 

Is it free from errors (both content errors and spelling/grammar errors)?

  • Look at the headings to indicate structure
  • Read carefully for errors
  • Look for claims supported by evidence
  • Verify facts and statistics with other reliable sources




Questions Answers

Do you think there is enough evidence offered? Is the coverage comprehensive?

Is it consistent with other information? Does it confirm what you know or have read about in other sources?

Looking at the list of references in the source is an excellent way of not only understanding a work's coverage but also finding other excellent sources of research.




Questions Answers
When was it published? Do you need current information?

Topics requiring the most up-to-date information may include:

  • Science
  • Technology
  • Current events
Has the source been revised or updated in a subsequent version? Search Library catalogs and other databases (e.g. for more recent editions. 
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