Research skills

Evaluating information

Evaluating the quality of the content

What can you look at to determine the quality of an information source?  The key things to consider include:

Author: assess authority

Is the author qualified to write about the subject?

Look at the author information, the title page or use reference sources to check the author's credentials:

  • What relevant educational qualifications do they have?
  • What else have they written on the subject?
  • Do they work for an educational establishment or organisation that is strongly linked to the subject?

Publication date: assess the currency of a source

Some subject areas, such as computing, change rapidly and information can quickly become out of date. For other subjects, such as art, older information may still be valid.

  • Check the date of publication – usually given on the title page or back of the title page for printed resources
  • For websites, see if a creation date or date of last update is available.

Publication details: assess authority and reliability

Checking to see who published a source can help you determine its quality and reliability:

  • Well-established publishers put sources through a review process before publication. This should help ensure the information is accurate and reliable
  • Some publishers focus on particular subject areas and so may have a good reputation within the field
  • Websites may be published or hosted by organisations or educational establishments; this may help you assess the quality of the website.

However, there is no quality review process for a lot of information published on the web (unlike with books and journals); you will have to do this yourself.

Content: assess accuracy, reliability and relevance

Even if the source is reliable and of good quality, it is not useful unless it provides the information you need. Evaluate the content before deciding to use a source.

  • Look at any summary given and scan any contents page and index to see if your key topics are covered
  • Does the source cover your subject in enough detail?
  • Does it cover your subject at a suitable level for you?
  • Can you detect any bias in the writing? Will this affect how useful the source is for your purpose? Can you identify other sources that will offer a balance to it?
  • Is the content credible? Does it include evidence such as facts or figures to justify what is being said?
  • Cross reference the source with others - do your sources complement each other?
  • Does it provide a reference list or bibliography? This indicates that the source has been well-researched and can suggest other relevant sources you could use.
Watch this video for tips on sourcing reliable research:

Test yourself on your understanding of quality with the quiz below!