It is absolutely essential to evaluate the quality of any information you want to use in your assignment.
You need to develop critical thinking skills in order to make the right judgements about any information you want to use. Critical thinking means that as you read you are:
- identifying the main issues
- recognising underlying assumptions
- evaluating evidence
- evaluating authorities, people and publications
- recognising bias, emotional appeals, relevant facts, propaganda, generalities and language problems
The advice in this section will help you learn to evaluate the quality of the information you want to use in your assignments. They apply to every kind of information resource.
When you evaluate information you need to think critically about who wrote it and why, how relevant it is for your needs and whether it is sufficiently up-to-date.
Not all information is good quality information. You will lose marks if you use poor quality information in your assignments. The following criteria will help you decide whether a source is suitable to use:
• Relevance: is it appropriate for your topic, your argument, this level of study?
• Currency: is it up-to-date? Is there anything more recent?
With practice, you will find you automatically start to evaluate everything you read as a matter of course. Follow the links to each of these criteria for a more detailed explanation. Download the guide to Evaluating information for a useful summary. If you need more advice on the suitability of a resource, ask at the library enquiry desk, consult your Subject Librarian or use the online Ask-A-Librarian service.
Always check the credentials of the author whose work you are reading, whether it is a person or an organisation. Find out if they are an authority and check their motives for possible bias.
When reading a piece of literature, the first thing you should question is the authority behind that piece of work. The questions below will help you decide if you can trust the author. In general, text books are carefully reviewed by publishers or editors for the quality of their content but you still need to use your critical thinking skills when reading books as they may contain biased information.
Even good quality information needs careful examination to make sure it is directly relevant to your particular assignment.
Ask yourself why a particular book, article or other piece of literature might be useful to support your argument or approach. Abstracts are a quick, easy way to see the main topics and angles of a book or journal article without needing to look through it all.
Think about the scope and the focus of any piece of information. Are you looking for general facts, specific data, a focus on one country or the whole world? Does the information you have found match what you need?
Remember, even information of the highest quality may not necessarily be relevant for your current topic and from that point of view should not be used.
The date of publication will help you decide whether a source is current or out-of-date.
Currency depends on your subject. Fast-changing fields within Computing and Science may require more up-to-date materials than Humanities and Social Sciences, which often have classic texts that it is important to read. If your assignment has a historical context, then you will need to use both new and old information and, in this case, the older information is not out-of-date.
Check when a book was published by looking for the copyright date on the back of the title page, usually a few pages into the book. Make sure you are reading the latest edition of a book by looking in the Library Search as textbooks are updated frequently. Check whether the information you have found is up-to-date by searching carefully for any newer resources. If nothing has changed since something was written, then it will be useful no matter how old it is!
Journal articles almost always contain more up-to-date information than books.