Evaluating Resources

Research 101 Part 5

Critical Thinking

As the amount of published information continues to grow exponentially, it is important to think critically and evaluate your sources. Content is published by individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and countries. Note that there is no automatic formal review of some published content. While the content on the Ithaca College Library's website and in our print, media, and online collections has been selected by professional librarians, other content may be published and/or posted on the Web by non-experts. The ability to evaluate the information you find is a key CRITICAL THINKING skill.

We recommend using the  ACCORD METHOD (Agenda, Credentials, Citations, Oversight, Relevance, Date) to determine if information is appropriate for a research project.

ACCORD Checklist for evaluating resources.  ACCORD CHECKLIST pdf

Agenda

Information is published for various reasons - as advertising, entertainment, public service, sharing of ideas/opinions, and serving as a forum for scholarly ideas and research.   It is important to determine why and for whom the information was published. 

Factors to consider in reviewing the Agenda of a resource:

  1. For whom was the information published (or website made) and why? Is it to inform, sell, entertain, or advance an opinion?
  2. For websites, is advertising included?
  3. Is the purpose of the information stated and clear?
  4. Are there personal, political, religious, or cultural biases presented?

Credentials

It is important to determine an author's identity in order to establish the reliability of the information presented.

Factors to consider in reviewing the Credentials of an author:

  1. Who is the author of the information? 
  2. Are the author's credentials and affiliations listed?
  3. Is contact information provided for an individual author or an organization?
  4. What are the qualifications of the author or group that published the information?
  5. For websites, what is the domain name in the URL? For example: .com, .edu, .gov, .net, .mil, .org, or a personal website such as rachaelray.com
  6. Does an organization appear to sponsor the information?

Citations

A review of the list of any sources cited is an important step in evaluating a resource.

Factors to consider in reviewing the Citations listed by a resource:

  1. Does the author cite the works of others?
  2. Are the sources listed in the bibliography or included links related to the focus of the research/purpose of the site?
  3. What kinds of sources are linked/listed?
  4. For online documents, are links still current, or have they become dead ends?
  5. Note: The quality of Web pages linked to an original Web page may vary; therefore, you must always evaluate each Web site independently.

Oversight

Oversight in publishing involves a review/editing process - authors submit book manuscripts and/or articles to editors who review the content or forward it to experts in the field for review. Because the reviewers specialize in the same scholarly area as the author, they are considered the author’s peers.  Editors and reviewers carefully evaluate the quality of the submitted manuscript, check for accuracy and assess the validity of the research methodology and procedures.  If appropriate, they suggest revisions.  If a book contains entries by multiple authors there may be a list of expert reviewers who were responsible for assessing individual entries. 

Factors to consider in reviewing the Oversight of a resource:

  1. Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  2. Is the journal in which you found an article or the book published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society, professional association, or college/university academic department or scholarly press? (To verify, check the journal or publisher's website). 

Relevance

How pertinent is the data in relation to your topic? This involves a review of the intended audience and how the information relates to the specific topic.

Factors to consider in reviewing the Relevance of a resource:

  1. Does the information relate to or answer your research question?
  2. Does the information meet the requirements of your assignment? (primary or secondary source? popular or scholarly source?)
  3. Is the information too technical or too basic for your needs?  Is the intended audience for the material the expert or the non-expert?
  4. Is the information presented appropriate in terms of depth and breadth?

Date

The currency of information is essential for some types of research and less so for others.   Historical information that reflects people and events that have occurred in the past is relevant to historical research in many fields.  In other fields such as health care, legislation, and finance, current information is used in research.

Factors to consider in reviewing the Date of a resource:

  1. When was the information published or last updated?
  2. Have newer articles been published on your topic?
  3. Are links or references to other sources up to date?  Do the links work?
  4. Is your topic in an area that changes rapidly or will older sources work as well?

Check the bottom of a webpage for the publication date, copyright date, or date last updated information.   The copyright information for physical materials is listed in the catalog record and/or the bibliographic information.

Which Search Tool When

Library Search:  Use to find relevant materials in databases, books, images, scores, and multimedia.  Does not search all library databases.

Library Databases:  Use to do focused subject searching and retrieve highly relevant sources for your research.

Worldcat:  Use to find books that are available at libraries around the world.

Course Guides:  Use for targeted research assistance - sources are customized for class asignments.

Subject Guides: Use to find the best databases and other information sources for academic majors and programs.

Google Scholar:  Use to locate scholarly materials on a topic (in addition to those available via library databases and other resources).

eReference:  Use to locate general background, definitions, statistical, biographical, and governmental information.

Web Search:  Use to verify quick facts and general websites.