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Penn State University Libraries

How to Evaluate Information

Here are questions you should ask when evaluating print sources and websites. See more detailed information below.

What to look for in books and periodicals

  • Currency: What is the publication date of the resource?
  • Authority: Who is the author and publisher? 
  • Validity/Accuracy: Is the information accurate or valid?
  • Audience: Who was the resource written for?
  • Point of view (bias): What is the resource's point of view?

What to look for in web sites

  • Currency: When was the website last updated?
  • Authority: Who is the author or creator?
  • Validity/Accuracy: Is the information accurate or valid?
  • Audience: Who was the website created for?
  • Point of view (bias): What is the website's point of view?
 

Currency

What to look for in books and periodicals:

  • Does the paper/assignment require the most current information, historical information, or information over a period of time?
  • If you are researching a topic that is currently in the news, you may want only the most recent information. If you are researching a historical event, you may want information written at the time of the event.
  • For books: What is the copyright date on the reverse of the title page? Does it meet your needs? Is this the most recent edition?
  • For periodicals:  Does the publication date meet your needs? 

What to look for in Web sites:

  • Does the paper/assignment require the most current information, historical information, or information over a period of time?
  • When was the Web site published or created? (look for a copyright date on the homepage)
  • When was the site last updated or revised?
  • Are the links up to date?
 

Authority

What to look for in books and periodicals:

  • What are the author's credentials and reputation?
  • What other works on the subject has the author written?
  • Is the author an expert or researcher in the field? A government agency? A journalist?
  • Has the author been cited by your instructor? In other publications you've read?
  • Did you check biographical sources such as Contemporary Authors and Biographical and Genealogical Master Index in the E-Resource List ?

What to look for in Web sites:

  • Who is supplying the information?
  • Is it an educational institution (.edu extension)? A government agency (.gov)? A commercial supplier (.com)? A non-profit organization (.org)?
  • Is the supplier a reputable organization? (look for an “About Us” link on the homepage)
  • Is there an author or contact person named? What are the author's credentials (see "What to look for in books and periodicals")?
  • Has this site been reviewed by experts or professional organizations?
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Validity/Accuracy

What to look for in books and periodicals:

  • If the information is not current, is it still accurate?
  • Can the information be verified or supported by other sources? Do other sources report the same findings?
  • Is evidence given to support the information?
  • Are sources of factual information cited?

What to look for in Web sites:

  • Are sources of information cited?
  • Compared to other sources, is the information complete and accurate? Are the links also complete and accurate, or are there discrepancies?
  • Is selection criteria provided for the links found in the Web site?
  • Does the site appear to be carefully edited, or are there typographical errors?
 

Audience

What to look for in books and periodicals:

  • Who is the intended audience? Researchers or experts? Trade or professional members? The general public?
  • Is the source appropriate for your needs, or is it too technical, advanced or elementary?

What to look for in Web sites:

  • Is the site appropriate for your needs, or is it too technical or too elementary, or too full of jargon?
  • Who is the intended audience? Experts or the general public?
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Point of view (bias)

What to look for in books and periodicals:

  • Does the source have a particular bias?
  • Does it promote the ideas of a particular group--religious, political, etc.?
  • Is the information objective or partial?
  • Is it factual information or interpretations of facts?
  • Are there assumptions and opinions stated?

What to look for in Web sites:

  • Does the information appear to be filtered or is it free from bias?
  • Could the organization sponsoring the site have a stake in how the information is presented?
  • Is the site free of advertisements?
  • Are various points of view, theories, techniques, or schools of thought offered?

 

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