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Evaluating Resources

  • Overview
  • Types of Resources
  • Evaluating Resources
  • Authority
  • Reliability
  • Timliness
  • Periodicals
  • Books
  • Encyclopedias/Dictionaries
  • Databases
  • Web Pages
  • Quiz

This Tutorial Will Discuss the Following:

  • Different types of resources
  • How to evaluate each resources
  • Authority, reliability, and timliness
  • When to use each resource

By the end of the section, you'll be able to do the following:

  • Identify types of resources
  • Explain which resources are appropriate in a variety of situations
  • Evaluate resources and explain why they're appropriate or inappropriate for your research

Types of Resources:

We live in the information age and have many types of resources literally at our fingertips:
  • Periodicals (Popular Magazines, Scholarly Journals, Newspapers)
  • Encyclopedias/Dictionaries
  • Books (Print & Electronic)
  • Databases
  • Web Pages
Each of these resources needs to be evaluated for usefulness based on what type of information we need and how we will be use the information.

Evaluating Resources:

All resources are not created equal, especially those found on the internet. Public libraries offer free access to the internet to everyone and with a little knowledge you can post whatever information you like to the world wide web. Even when information appears in print it is not necessarily accurate and reliable. Each resource (print and online) should be evaluated for authority, reliability, and timeliness.


Authority:

You should look at each source to see who or what organization wrote or published it and ask yourself the following questions:
  • What was the purpose for publishing the material? Informational, entertainment, for profit, etc... If a theatre puts out a flyer advertising the "greatest show on earth" can you believe it? No, they want your money. You should look for reviews by people who have already spent their money to see the show or people who are considered experts in the industry. If a well known reviewer says "One of the best shows of 2009" then it is more informational than for profit, therefore more believable. Even though the reviewer is paid to review shows he/she is only as good as his/her reputation.
  • What are the author's credentials? Are they an authority on the subject? Did a dancer write a book on treatments for dance related injuries or was the book written by a medical doctor? While a dancer with many years of experience may have some interesting insights, they are not qualified to advise you on proper dosages for medication. You should alwaysl check with your doctor.
  • What was the publication process? Most academic books have an editor or group of editors that have expertise (authority) on the subject matter who approve the material for publication. Academic journal articles are peer reviewed. Multiple authorities on the subject review the article and approve it before publication. This process is what makes the journal "academic" or "scholarly."

Reliability:

Sources should be evaluated for accuracy and trustworthiness.
  • Material should be reviewed for bias to determine how accurate or misleading it is. For example, if you are reading a review of a play written by someone related to the director of the play or someone in the cast there is an obvious bias. This does not mean the review is not honest, but how can you trust that it is? You should read other reviews without bias to either support or replace this review. One way to check for bias is by identifying the main points and asking how they are supported. Are multiple sides presented and refuted in support of these points? If not, there may be a bias.
  • Does the item have a bibliography or a works cited page? The existence of a bibliography indicates that the author engaged in research others were given credit for their ideas. If a bibliography does not exist you cannot be sure that what you are reading is not sheer opinion or entirely made up.
  • Another test of reliability is to find multiple sources that say the same thing. If instead you continue to find sources that contradict the source you are evaluating, chances are it is not reliable.

Timeliness:

Sources should be relevant. In most cases this means current, but in some cases you want historical information and it is okay to use information that was published ten or even twenty years ago. However, if you are working on a biography of Martha Graham, make sure you are looking at the most recently published information because new facts may have been discovered about her life and previously held beliefs may have been proven false. Most information is considered timely if it was published within the past five years. You should look for the following information concerning dates:
  • Date material was researched or written - this information could be contained in introductions or prefaces
  • Publication date
  • In the case of web sites the date information was last updated

Periodicals:

Periodicals are items that are published in volumes on a regular basis (e.g., annually, monthly, quarterly, etc.)
  • Popular Magazines - are periodicals that are geared toward the masses. They tend to have lots of general product advertisements and short articles requiring little or no research such as interviews, editorials, and product reviews. (Seventeen, Home & Garden, Time) Use popular magazines to find information on pop culture.
  • Professional Journals/Trade Magazines - are a lot like popular magazines except they are subject specific. Authors/Editors are subject specialists. Any product advertisements would be for products used in the profession and interviews would be limited to leaders within the field. (Dance Teacher, Dance Magazine, Dancer) Use trade magazines for the latest news in a particular field or profession.
  • Scholarly Journals - require a peer review process before publication. Authors are subject specialists and so are the peer reviewers. The journals contain research articles with subject specific jargon and a works cited or bibliography list(Dance Research, Dance Chronicle, Research in Dance Education). Use scholarly journals for the latest research on a particular topic or in a particular profession.
  • Newspapers - contain articles on current affairs and human interest pieces. (The Oklahoman, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) Use newspapers to find information on current events, especially local events.


Sometimes evaluating resources requires a little extra research. If you are trying to determine if your author is a subject expert, a quick google search on the author's name and the publication name will usually turn up an editors page like this one for Dance Magazine. It gives the credentials of all the editors so you know whether or not they have the authority to write what they are writing about.

Books

Books should be used when you need a lot of information on a particular topic. They are especially good when you want to view a topic from a historical perspective. Books serve the same function whether they are in print or electronic format. In addition to printed books, the Dulaney-Browne Library also has many electronic books purchased from ebrary.

A good example of a historical book is The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. It was edited by Vaslav's wife Romola Nijinsky. You know this from reading the preface where she refers to Nijinsky as her husband. She also states in the preface that Nijinsky himself wrote the diary that the book is based on (authority). The publisher is the University of California Press. University Presses normally publish reputable research. The publisher is reputable and the editor is an authority on the subject (reliability). However, is there potential for bias? A wife may want to hide certain things or embellish others, but she is basing her writing on a historical document that she cited. There seems to be no reason for the publication other than to inform. It was first published in 1936. The information is not very timely, but the source is a credible source of historical information, especially since it is an autobiography (timeliness). However, research is rarely supported by one source. Look for more sources as well as a biography that covers his entire life since he was still living when this one was first published.

Source:
Nijinsky, Vaslav. The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. ed. Romola Nijinsky.

     Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1973. Print.

Encyclopedias/Dictionaries

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries should be evaluated in the same manner as books. If you have a topic that you know nothing about, a dictionary can provide a definition and possibly synonymns that you can use for further search terms in a library catalog. An encyclopedia will provide you with a short history of your topic and usually a few references to the sources that were used. You can look up those references in the library catalog for more in depth information.

Note:
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that users can login to and anonymously edit entries, so it is unusable in an academic setting (fails test for authority and reliability). When using Wikipedia you should always verify any information using additional sources and should NEVER cite Wikipedia in an academic paper.

Databases:

In libraries, electronic databases contain full-text, abstracted articles. The articles can be from newspapers, popular magazines, trade journals, or scholarly journals. A library database will give you the full citation to the article you are accessing. Some of the articles will be full-text while some will only give you an abstract or summary. You should evaluate the periodical in the same manner you would a print periodical. You can trust the databases provided by your library, as librarians have a high motivation to choose reputable database vendors due to the high cost of database subscriptions. A few of the well known library databases vendors are EBSCO, JSTOR, ProQuest, Elsevier, and Gale.

If you are accessing a database offered freely on the internet or some other source you should look at the database provider credentials as well as the contents of the database. What is the full scope of the database? Are only dance journals included in the database or is it a general topic database? The answers to these questions will tell you if the provider is an authority on a particular topic. You should also ask how the provider can afford to offer the information for free? Does the provider also publish the print journals? Are the articles copyrighted? If you are dealing with full-text, look to see that the database is always giving you full citation information and that it matches what is actually included in the full-text information. Do the page numbers match? Does the first page of full-text actually start with the title page? Were the articles ever published in print? The more questions you answer with a "no," the less likely you are to have a reputable database vendor. However, you will still need to evaluate each individual article for reliability and for appropriateness as applicable to your information need.

Web Pages:

Web Pages are one of the most challenging sources to evaluate because anyone can post them and they can be edited at any time. One important thing you should always look for is the publisher, clues to which can be found in the URL. Sites in the .edu domain are published by universities while .gov sites are published by the government and can normally be trusted. However, most universities give their students web space so .edu sites can also be published by students and not necessarily the university. Site in the .org, .com, and .net domains are published by companies, organizations, and the general public. You must always look at the author, the type of information, whether or not sources are cited, and whether or not information is current. Use the internet to research companies, access government published information, as well as current information. A lot of newspapers can be accessed online and sites like Yahoo! have daily news and pop culture headlines.

The Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide web page is a perfect example of a site that looks like a good resource, but upon closer examination fails the test of authority, reliability, and timeliness. This website gives lots of facts about how Dihydrogen Monoxide kills people. It is published by an organization called Coalition to Ban DHMO and was copyrighted in 1995. The web address contains a .com so the publisher could be anyone. There are no links labeled "about us" to help you determine the authority of the organization and there is not information on how often the page has been updated since its creation fifteen years ago. No sources are cited for the facts listed about DHMO, but one quote is given from the Department of Health for the State of Washington, and there is a list for further reading. One of the readings is from the newspaper USA Today and another is published by Oxford University Press. There are also links to further reading on the web. One is to a United Nations page and another is to the CIA World Factbook. These are reputable sources and would tend to make you think the information on the site could be trusted. However, the links do not lead to information about DHMO. Most of the information on the site is correct, but it is presented in such a way that is misleading. Dihydrogen (H2) Monoxide (O) is (H2O) water. We cannot ban water. Unless you are writing a paper on the satirical use of web sites, then you should find another resource.

Quiz

Before you answer the questions, be sure to fill in your name and class information so it will appear correctly on the submission page. The submission page will appear automatically when you click the submit button at the end of the quiz. Print the page and turn it in to your professor.

First Name: Last Name:





  1. Each resource should be evaluated for all of the following except:
    Timliness
    Presentation
    Reliability
    Authority A source should always be evaluated for authority, reliability, and timeliness.Correct. Presentation is not a concern when evaluating the usefulness of a resource for scholarly research.

  2. All of the following test for reliability except:
    Multiple sources saying the same thing
    The existence of a bibliography
    Recommendation of a friend The recommendation of a friend is not a test of reliability whne doing research unless your friend happens to be an authority on the topic.The existence of a bibliography lends reliability becasue the researcher is able to follow the citations beck to their original form. Additionally multiple sources being in agreement also speaks to reliability.

  3. Popular magazines contain scholarly articles which include a works cited or bibliography.
    True
    False CorrectPopular magazines have short articles such as interviews and editorials that require little research. Scholarly journals contain in-depth reserach articles.


  4. Which type of source would be helpful for finding a large amount of historical information?
    Encyclopedia/Dictionary
    Periodical
    Book
    WebpageCorrect, books provide a lot of information on a particular topic and are often good for historical information.The first, second, and fourth can all be used to find historical information, but normally cover more brief time periods or narrow topics.

  5. Which type of source will be useful in beginning your research?
    Encyclopedia/Dictionary
    Periodical
    Book
    WebpageCorrect, Encyclopedias and Dictionaries are often the best sources for beginning research as they can provide brief overviews and definitions of your topic as well as a list of other resources to consult.Periodicals, books, and webpages can all be good sources of informaiton, but if you do not know much about your topic encyclopeidas and dictionaries can give you a brief overview to help start your search.
  6. EBSCO is one of the electronic databases that contains full-text and abstracts of articles.
    True
    FalseCorrect.EBSCO is one of the main databases purchased by the library that indexes articles.


  7. Which website suffix can generally be trusted?
    .edu
    .gov
    .com
    .netCorrect, government agencies are about the dissemination of information..com and .net sites cannot always be trusted as they are controlled by companies and members of society who can post anything. While .edu sites can normally be trusted many studies are given web space and can post personal web sites that are not reliable.



Rate the following source on authority, reliability, and timeliness.

  1. The English Journal source is an authoritative source.
    True
    False Correct, it is a peer reviewed scholarly journal.Incorrect, the English Journal is published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and is peer reviewed. If this informaiton is not enough to trust the source you can look up the NCTE website and look up the credentials of the editorial staff as well as the criteria for being a reviewer.
  2. The The Second Term of George W. Bush edited by Robert Maranto, Tom Lansford, and Jeremy Johnson is a reliable source.
    True
    False Correct, by reading the foreward and notes about authors/contributors you can see the reasons for writing the book were academic in nature with no other agenda or bias.Incorrect, the book lists both Bush's failures and successes as well as listing issues with judging presidents in general. There seems to be no otehr agenda or bias.
  3. This website is a timely source.
    True
    False Correct, the site was last updated in 2010. However rules could have changed for organic gardners in the past 2 years or newer pesticides introduced so you should search several sources for newer information, but overall expect to validate the inforamtion found on this web site.Incorrect, most information is considered timely if it was produced in the past five years. Depending on your topic the information could already be out-of-date in that time frame, but usually it is not.


Please answer the following questions honestly, so that we can improve this module.

  1. Is this your first time completing this module?
    Yes
    No


  2. What was most/least helpful about this online session?


  3. Do you have a better understanding of the different types of sources than you did before this online session?
    No, not at all 1 2 3 4 5 Yes, much better


  4. Overall, how useful was this online session?
    Not Usefule 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely Useful





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