University Library

Finding quality information

All the information you find for your work should be evaluated, regardless of its source – think critically about information!

You should first evaluate the source of your information then the content.

Is it an academic, scholarly, or popular (aimed at a general audience) source? Most newspapers and magazines are popular, whereas academic journals and conference papers are scholarly. If it is a journal, is it peer-reviewed?

If you are happy that the source of your information is appropriate for academic use, you need to assess its content.

Considerations

Currency
Is the information up to date? Do you need it to be? If you are using a book, is it the most recent version?
Relevance
Is the information relevant for your topic, too detailed, not detailed enough? Do you have a range of views and perspectives?
Bias
Is there an obvious bias or agenda? You don't need to automatically discount biased information—it may provide a different (and useful) perspective.
Validity
Is there a correctly referenced bibliography? If it is original research, were the methods used to collect the data explained?
Reliability
Is the information presented in a logical format using appropriate language? Does the information seem well researched with supporting evidence? Has the author made claims without backing them up? Was it written by someone who is a recognised authority in that field?

Many Information Services databases allow you to limit your search to academic sources only. For more information contact a librarian in your subject library.

Information from the web

The web is a special case – there is no control over what is placed there. This lack of authority allows anyone to publish anything. There is reliable, current information on the web but you should carefully evaluate any information from the web.

Remember:

  • Most information on the web is not reviewed or 'selected'. You will need to become the reviewer.
  • A lot of information on the web is neither permanent nor stable.
  • A lot of information on the web is outdated.
  • A lot of information on the web is not suitable for academic research.

Before you use information found on the web, ask yourself the following questions:

Who wrote the page?
Identify the author(s) to establish their credentials and any potential bias.
When was the page last updated?
Look for a date to establish the currency.
Who recommended it?
Did the recommendation come from a reliable source such as a lecturer or tutor?
Can you find any indications of the quality of the content?
Are the sources reliable? Are there many links to the site? Do the links work?
Who is hosting the website? What are their credentials?
Is it a personal website or from a reputable organisation? Hosts include government departments (.gov),  educational institutions (.edu), organisations (.org) and commercial sites (.com).

Remember that information from resources purchased and recommended by Information Services is more likely to be reliable than that found on many websites.

Finally, think carefully about all the above points then make an informed judgement.