Finding information today is hardly challenging. The challenge is to find high quality information that meets your specific needs. Be discriminating! Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you are sifting through your search results, looking for gems of information.
Currency - How recent is the information?
How important this criterion is depends on your topic. Your instructor may set limits on the date range you may use for your sources.
Type of Information - What kind of information is it? What category does it fit in?
While there are lots of different categories used to divide up types of information (books, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs, wikis, etc.), the two that are the most important are scholarly and not scholarly. To identify a source as scholarly, it must have:
Also, scholarly articles are usually quite lengthy – 5 to 30 pages. If it’s only a page long or less, it’s very doubtful that it is scholarly. And they are research-based, offering results from original research the author(s) has conducted, or extensive and detailed analysis of an issue.
Audience - Who is it aimed at: scholars or researchers, the general public, or a specific profession (doctors, lawyers, teachers)?
With the traditional forms of information, magazine and newspaper articles are aimed at the general public. Scholarly journal articles are aimed at academics or researchers in that particular field. Magazines or newspapers that are aimed at people in a particular profession are called “trade journals” or “trade magazines”. The articles may appear to be scholarly, but rarely are they research-based with extensive bibliographies. With the web, all of this is murkier and it is difficult to tell sometimes who the audience is for the information.
Authority - Who wrote it or who is responsible for it? Why should I care what they think?
For scholarly information, it will say who wrote it, and usually their academic rank (assistant professor, researcher, etc.) and where they were employed at the time the article was written. If the article is from a peer-reviewed journal, which means that other researchers have critiqued the article and found it to be worthy of publication.
For non-scholarly information, it’s more important who is responsible for it rather than the individual author. What is the reputation of the magazine or website that published the information?
Comprehensiveness - How complete and balanced is the information?
Some sources will be relevant and useful, but do not give the reader a complete picture of the issue and ramifications, such as an editorial that is slanted to a particular perspective. The more comprehensive sources will be especially useful at the beginning of your research, when you are still absorbing as much as possible about your issue. But just because a source is not balanced does not mean it would not useful – it just means you need to find sources with other views as well.
Trustworthiness - Is the information sound? How does it compare with other sources?
This is the most important criterion to judge your source. But it is the one that takes the most time, because you have to know enough about your issue to judge the soundness.