CONDUCTING LIBRARY RESEARCH:
- Currency of the information
- The author's credentials
- The publisher or source
- Relevance of the information
- Reliability and validity
of the information
- Intended audience,
purpose, and perspective
If you're lucky, your research will identify many possible sources of information
for your project. Closer examination of those materials, however, may
reveal that some are not appropriate for what you are trying to accomplish.
As you gather sources, you will do some initial evaluation of them. The
author, publisher or source, and date will all be taken into consideration.
Your evaluation of them will continue as you look at them in depth. Here
are things to keep in mind as you evaluate your sources.
Currency of the information
- The date of publication will
indicate how current the information is.
- If your project requires an
historical approach, you may want material contemporaneous with the events
you are researching.
The author's credentials
- Biographical information about
the author can help you determine whether she is an expert in the field.
- Noting that the author has
written several books/articles for respected publishers/journals on this topic
may indicate that he is an expert.
- Journal articles often include
university affiliation information for the author.
The publisher or source
- University presses and the
large publishing companies may give you some assurance of the quality of books.
- A book that has been reissued
in several editions is one to which people continue to refer.
- Journals published by societies
(American Psychological Association, National Council of Teachers of English,
National Art Education Association, etc) can be expected to carry quality
- Note whether a journal uses
a blind referee system for selecting the articles it publishes.
Relevance of the information
- Abstracts included with indexing
and annotations in bibliographies can tell you something about the item.
- For books, check the table
of contents; for journal articles, the initial paragraphs should indicate
whether the item is relevant to your project.
- Note the historical context:
is this a primary source or a secondary source?
Reliability and validity of the information
- Book reviews can give you
some indication of whether the material presented is reliable.
- Reading widely on the topic
will give you a sense of whether "facts" check out and whether the
research presented fits in with other work done in the field.
- Note where the information
presented comes from. Is it based on original research? Are references
cited (and do they look credible), or is the author offering his opinions?
Intended audience, purpose, and perspective
- The language used (layman's
or specialist's) gives some indication of the intended audience; is it appropriate
for your project?
- The character of the journal
(society title reporting research, trade publication providing best practice,
general interest title) also gives you an idea of the audience.
- Often the opening paragraphs
of an article or the introduction to a book will give you a sense of the purpose.
Is the material meant to communicate the results of research, to persuade
the reader on an issue, to inform, or to entertain?
- Does the author have any biases
or is she writing from a particular theoretical perspective? While writing
from a Marxist, Feminist, or other stance can illuminate a topic in important
ways, it is important to recognize that the framework used may neglect or
distort aspects of a topic that don't fit in with the theory.