Searching and Writing

Source criticism

When you have selected a number of publications, the next stage is to evaluate their quality and reliability. Start by viewing all information with a critical eye and use your common sense when making your choices. 

There are certain criteria that you can use for judging the quality of information. Consider the following:

  • RELIABILITY – has the material been checked and evaluated?
  • AUTHORITY – check your source, those behind the work and the writer.
  • OBJECTIVITY – is it fact or opinion that is being communicated? What is the purpose behind the publication? 
  • UP TO DATE – how old is the information?
  • CONTENT – for scholarly publications, look at what the main results are and how they are presented. Is there information on the methods and sources that have been used? Do the results of the study satisfy the writer's stated aims and questions?
  • READING LISTS AND REFERENCES – is there a list of sources? Is there information about further reading on the subject?

Source criticism on the Internet

Printed texts have usually been checked by the publishers (editorial boards), and subject experts check scholarly articles before they are published (peer-review). Internet texts on the other hand are rarely checked by others. Anybody can publish a text for any purpose at all, which means that the quality varies enormously.

All kinds of information – both printed and electronic – should be viewed critically, but it is particularly important to be observant and to evaluate carefully any information found on the Internet.

Analyse the information on a website using these questions: 

  • WHO has put this information on the Internet?
  • WHAT does the website contain? 
  • WHY has the information been published?
  • WHEN was it written and when was it last updated?
  • WHO is the website targeting?