You need to know who the author is, and whether they are an expert in the topic. You also need to look at the publisher and find out if they are reputable for publishing high quality resources. Some journals and website have very similar names, so be sure you have the right one.
- Who is the author?
- Are they respected in their field?
- Has your supervisor mentioned this author?
- Can you find this author when doing a search?
- Is this author mentioned in the reference lists of any resources you found?
- Does this author have any other books in the library?
- Have they written other articles - check the library databases?
- Have they been quoted in other articles - check the library databases?
- Is the publisher reputable?
- For electronic sources, are there any distinguishing headers, footers or watermarks to indicate it is an official site?
- If they are the author of a website, have you checked for a contact email address and postal address?
- Is the web page hosted on a reputable web site, for example an educational website (.edu) or a government site (.gov) ?
- Are links provided to authors or organisations that you recognise?
The age of the article or book is important, but so too is the age of the information cited within that article or book. Using outdated information can affect the accuracy and reliability of the information. Some industries require very up-to-date information (e.g. nursing and technology), while others may be interested in more historical information (e.g. history, arts, literature).
- What is the date that the item was published? Is the publication date appropriate for your needs?
- Is your research topic restricted by a particular date range? For some information, it may not matter that the work is not current. For example, historical items such as Constitution, classics of fiction eg. Oliver Twist.
- Current information is critical in some areas eg. information technology
- For electronic sources check if there are dates available, such as last updated date.
- For electronic sources, is the information stable, or could it disappear tomorrow? You may not want to use information that will not be available when your assignment is being marked.
You will ned to examine the content to ensure is covers the topic, and is written for the right audience. As a general rule, if you need to concentrate to be able to understand what you are reading, than it is most likely an academic source. However, if the difficulty in comprehension is due to poor written language, than you may consider it an unreliable source.
- Does the information cover all aspects of a subject area?
- Are topics investigated in depth?
- Is it a comprehensive source, or does it have limited coverage?
- How valuable is the information to your topic?
- Is the information relevant to your topic?
- Is the target audience appropriate eg. is it scholarly or popular?
It is important to remember that everyone has an opinion, and they are representing their point of view.
- Is the author affiliated with an organisation with a clear bias on the issue?
- Is the document sponsored by an organisation that has a clear stake in the issue?
- If you are looking at a commercial website, assume that the company will be promoting its services or products
- Is the information located on a site affiliated with an organisation that works in that area?
- Political organisations are promoting themselves, and will not be positive towards those parties opposing them.
Accuracy relates to facts and figures, names and places, spelling and grammar, and even page numbering. Most academic sources has rigorous checks to prevent the publication of inaccurate or false information.
- Have you checked that adequate explanation of the research methodology has been included?
- Can information from the source be verified for accuracy?
- Do you recognise authors in the bibliography?
- If an electronic source, does the research document provide links in the bibliography to other sources?
- Have other people, who are experts in the area, reviewed this information?
- Was it recommended as a good information source?
- For electronic sources, have other websites you trust linked to the site?
- You can find reviews in professional journals, review journals (Australian Book Review), and select newspapers eg. The Australian; Times Literary Supplement