Once you have identified resources, begin to evaluate whether they will be useful to you. General questions to help you ascertain this are:
- Does the information pertain to your topic? Does it provide the type of information you need? Titles can sometimes obscure the contents of a chapter or book.
- Does the resource provide information at the right level of detail? Is it too general, too technical, or too theoretical?
- Is the reference a primary source or a secondary source? A primary source is an original document or manuscript. A secondary source is based upon the work of primary sources. For example, the report of a scientific study would be a primary source and an article synthesizing the results of several studies would be considered a secondary source.
- Is the author someone who is recognized in the field as an expert? Authors who have written more than one book or article on the topic and are frequently cited by other scholars are likely candidates for the title of "expert."
- Does the author cite high-quality sources to support his or her ideas? A writer who cites other high-quality sources demonstrates that he or she has researched the topic.
- Was the article published by a popular magazine or a scholarly journal? Popular magazines typically provide very general information about a topic, while scholarly journals and books provide greater substance and depth to the topic. Scholarly journals are also considered more credible than popular magazines because articles they contain are usually reviewed by a panel of experts and deemed acceptable (or rejected) prior to publication.
- How recent is the reference? While it is very possible that an important work on the topic may be a few decades old, has there been more current work on the topic? Try to balance older books and articles with more current resources. Generally, references less than five years old are considered current.
- Is the writing objective and unbiased? Does the author present both sides (or all sides) accurately? As you know, if you read a position or argumentative paper on a topic, the author has adopted a stance. Therefore, you need to ensure that you read other views on the topic and understand the opinions of other authorities.