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Information Literacy for Undergrads: Evaluating Information

Advice and Best Practices to Insure Obtaining and Using the Best Resources Available.

Checklist for Evaluating Websites

Many sites on the Web are created by non-experts.  An appropriate evaluation process to judge the quality and accuracy of information may include the following:

AUTHORITY AND ACCURACY

What is the author's identity and qualifications? Is there a way to determine the accuracy of information?

PURPOSE AND CONTENT

What is the purpose of the website?  Is the information factual and unbiased?
What is the purpose?

-Is it a personal webpage? An organization? A company?  A scholarly information site?  An advertisement?  For entertainment?
-Does the website provide factual, balanced, and objective information?
-Does the website seem to offer only subjective, biased, and opinionated information?

CONTACT INFORMATION FOR VERIFICATION

Is there a way to contact the author or webmaster?

CURRENCY

Is this the kind of website where updating of information is critical to provide the most current information?
When was the site last updated, revised, or modified?

DESIGN, ORGANIZATION & EASE OF USE

These are important considerations. If a site lacks any of these factors it loses value and credibliity.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Primary Sources
Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events and empirical studies as possible. Such sources may include expositions of creative ideas, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, publication of the results of empirical observations or studies, and other items that may form the basis of further research. Examples include:

 

  •     Novels, plays, poems, works of art, popular culture
  •     Diaries, narratives, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches
  •     Government documents, patents
  •     Data sets, technical reports, experimental research results


      
Secondary Sources
Secondary sources analyze, review or restate information in primary resources or other secondary resources. Even sources presenting facts or descriptions about events are secondary unless they are based on direct participation or observation. Moreover, secondary sources often rely on other secondary sources and standard disciplinary methods to reach results, and they provide the principle sources of analysis about primary sources. Examples include:

 

  •     Biographies
  •     Review articles and literature reviews
  •     Scholarly articles that don't present new experimental research results
  •     Historical studies


      
Tertiary Sources
Tertiary resources provide overviews of topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources often provide data in a convenient form or provide information with context by which to interpret it. Examples include:

 

  •     Encyclopedias
  •     Chronologies
  •     Almanacs
  •     Textbooks

Some Website May Be Better than Others...

Internet Domain Extensions:

.gov - Government body
http://www.ed.gov

.ca - Country or state codes
http://www.ode.state.oh.us

.edu - Educational institution, used in the U.S.
http://www.rio.edu

.org - Organization that may be non-profit
http://www.redcross.org
        
.net - A top-level domain name used for Internet administrative sites in the United States
http://www.microsoft.net
        
.com - A commercial enterprise
http://www.bobevans.com

Other Tips and Tricks:

Most Web servers use the tilde (~) to represent the personal homepages of individuals:

http://members.chello.nl/~f.dejonge/rs.html
    
Personal homepages often have URLs ending in:

/welcome.html
/index.html
/default.html

Types of Resources

Below is a list of the most commonly cited resources used for research.

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journals
 
Articles are reviewed and approved for publication by scholars/experts in the field.
Examples: Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Journal of Accountancy

 

  •     Uses jargon of the discipline
  •     Extensive footnotes/references at the end of the article
  •     Purpose of the article is to publish the results of research
  •     Audience: scholars, researchers, professionals, students
  •     Graphics are usually statistical illustrations, in black-and-white

Trade Journals
 
Articles are written and read by professionals in a specific industry.
Examples: Harvard Business Review, Chronicle of Higher Education

 

  •     Uses jargon of the industry
  •     Occasionally cite sources
  •     Purpose of the article is to report industry trends, practical advice, and industry news

Popular Magazines
 
Articles are intended to casually inform, entertain, or present an opinion.
Examples: Time, Fortune, Vanity Fair

 

  •     General reading level
  •     Rarely cites sources
  •     Audience: non-professionals
  •     Due to frequency of publication, usually the first to report about a trend or news story

Newspapers
 
Published daily, newspapers are often the first to report a newsworthy story.
Examples: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today

 

  •     Written for a general audience
  •     Sources are informally cited as witnesses, officials, and people involved with the news story
  •     Articles provide enough information to report the news story with the information they have at the time, but often do not go in to great detail

Books and Ebooks
 
Books provide broad and foundational coverage of a topic.
Examples: How to Win Friends and Influence People, Freakonomics    Ebooks are just digitized print books

  •     Books have a longer publishing cycle, so they aren’t a source to consult for trends
  •     Books are not peer reviewed, but are reviewed by the publisher's editor(s) prior to publication.

Encyclopedias & Handbooks
 
Encyclopedias & handbooks feature introductory overviews of topics.
Examples: Encyclopedia of Social Theory, The Persuasion Handbook

 

  •     Professors most often will not allow you to cite encyclopedias in your papers
  •     Useful to consult when you've been tasked with researching a topic you know little about.
  •     Often cites sources or suggests further readings on the topic

 Government Websites
 
Government websites have .gov as their designated domain. They are often a great place to search for statistical information.
Examples: http://www.usa.gov/ and http://nces.ed.gov/

 

  •     Can be challenging to search and navigate to the information you need
  •      .gov websites also provide Laws/Statutes, regulations, and codes
  •     Find government information using the following:

                http://www.google.com/unclesam
                http://www.usa.gov/