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Communication Studies *: Evaluating Sources

Research Guide for Communication Studies

Importance of Evaluating Sources

Evaluating the authority, usefulness, and reliability of resources is a crucial step in developing a literature review that effectively covers pertinent research as well as demonstrating to the reader that you know what you're talking about. The process of evaluating scholarly research also enhances your general skills and ability to:

    1. develop and strengthen your ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant content,
    2. seek out alternate points of view,
    3. identify possible bias in the work of others,
    4. distinguish between fact, fiction, and opinion,
    5. draw cogent, well thought out conclusions, and
    6. synthesize information, extracting meaning through interpretation and analysis.

    All contect is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee.

    Strategies for Critically Evaluating Sources

    First Step:  Assessing 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 Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic?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.

    Second Step:  Assessing the Content

    Intended Audience
    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? Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?

    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.

    Writing Style
    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?

    Evaluative Reviews
    In the case of books, locate critical reviews of work in a database such as Book Review Index. 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.

    All contect is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee.

    Strategies for Critically Evaluating Web Content

    Web Content Requires Additional Methods of Evaluation

    The principles that guide your evaluation books, journal articles, reports, and other print materials applies to web sources as well. However, the interactive and mutlimedia dynamics of web-based content increases the level of assessment you must apply in order to ensure that you are viewing a valid source of information.

    Additional things to look for when considering using a web-based resource include:

    • Source of the content is stated, whether original or borrowed, quoted, or imported from elsewhere. Note that content imported from another source via RSS feed can be difficult to identify, as this material can blend in with other content on the page without being appropriately labeled.
    • Don't be fooled by an attractive, professional-looking presentation. Shoddy page designs are easier to recognize and are a warning to carefully scrutinze the material. However, just because it looks profession doesn't mean that it is.
    • Site is currently being maintained. Check for posting or editing dates.
    • Links are relevant and appropriate, and are in working order. A site with a lot of broken links is an indication of neglect and out-of-date content.
    • The site includes contact information. If a site is produced anonymously, you cannot verify the legitimacy of its creator.
    • Domain location in the site address (URL) is relevant to the focus of the material (e.g., .edu for educational or research materials, .org for profit or non-profit organizations). Note that the domain is not necessarily a primary indicator of site content. For example, some authors post their content on blog or wiki platforms hosted by companies with .com addresses. Note as well that the tilde (~) usually indicates a personal page.

    All contect is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee.