Robert E. Kennedy Library
Now that you've gathered up appropriate materials, it's time to choose which ones to use.
Let's say you're new to campus. You've decided to join an organization so that you can meet people. How do you choose which organization suits you best?
You gather information about several organizations:
You evaluate your choices in light of your own interests and goals. You find the organization that fits you best.
Doing research is similar.
You'll find plenty of sources of information, but some will fit your assignment better than others.
You want information that offers high quality evidence for the answer to your research question. Some sources can be outdated, biased, or just plain wrong, and using that information makes it a lot more difficult for you to present a convincing argument.
Taking the time to critically evaluate information as you find it will help you to avoid wrong turns in the research process.
The criteria for choosing which sources are most likely to help with your research are not rules, but guidelines. Being aware of them will help you think critically about the information you find.
Use the following criteria to evaluate the source:
Currency is important because information can quickly become obsolete. Supporting your thesis statement with facts that have been superseded by new research or recent events weakens your argument. Of course, not all assignments require the most current information; older materials can provide an historical or comprehensive understanding of your topic.
How do you know if the timeliness of your information is appropriate?
Relevance is important because you are expected to support your ideas with pertinent information. A source detailing Einstein's marriage and family life would not be germane to his theories in physics.
How do you know if your source is relevant?
Authority is important in judging the credibility of the author's assertions. In a trial regarding DNA evidence, a jury gives far more authority to what a genetics specialist has to say compared to someone off the street.
How do you know if an author is an authority on your topic?
Accuracy is important because errors and untruths distort a line of reasoning. When you present inaccurate information, you undermine your own credibility.
How do you know if your source is accurate?
Purpose is important because books, articles, and web pages exist to educate, entertain, or sell a product or point of view. Some sources may be frivolous or commercial in nature, providing inadequate, false, or biased information. Other sources are more ambiguous concerning their partiality. Varied points of view can be valid, as long as they are based upon good reasoning and careful use of evidence.
How do you determine the purpose of your source?
A. The peer-reviewed article is written by an expert and evaluated by other experts before being published. It was not written by a paid journalist.
A. The best choice is the U.S. Department of Labor statistics. The U.S. government is considered a reliable source. While a grassroots organization opposed to gambling may use legitimate statistics but exclude those that do not support a specific agenda.
Viewing information as a tool to prove a point or support an argument is a useful starting point for evaluation.
All kinds of information should be evaluated carefully, including books, articles and web sites.
There is no "one size fits all" set of guidelines for this important activity.
Now you're ready to use the resources you've chosen.