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Evaluate Your Sources

Evaluating the sources you find is a crucial step in the process of library research. The questions you ask to evaluate books, periodical articles, or web sources are similar. How to Critically Analyze Information Sources lists some of the critical questions you should ask when you consider the appropriateness of a particular book, article, or web site for your research. 


Evaluating sources in print or electronic format:



What are the author's qualifications? The source itself may provide some biographical information, or check biographical sources in the reference collection.

Is the author an expert on this topic? Has he or she written other material on the topic?

Is the publisher or sponsoring organization reputable?

What is a scholarly journal? Many databases allow you to limit your search to scholarly journals; however, some may use a term such as peer-reviewed or refereed. Click here for more help.


How reliable and free from error is the information?

Are sources listed so the reader can verify the data?

Are there editors or other people who have checked the facts?


Is the information presented with a minimum of bias? If there is a bias, is it clearly stated?

Is the information trying to persuade the audience to change their opinion?

If there is advertising on the web page, is it clearly differentiated from the information content?


Is the information up-to-date?

Is currency important? Some subjects, like medicine or technology, require current information. Other subjects, like religion or history, may not need to be as current.

Is the publication date clearly noted? Does the web page indicate when it was written and last revised?


Is your topic included in the work? Check the table of contents or index.

Are the topics explored in depth or superficially?

Is the language too technical or specialized? If so, choose something that's more appropriate.


Evaluating the Web 


You can expect to find everything on the web: silly sites, hoaxes, frivolous and serious personal pages, commercials, reviews, articles, full-text documents, academic courses, scholarly papers, reference sources, and scientific reports.  How do you sort it all out?


(1) First you need to know how to read a URL: http://www.bluefield.edu/library/research/evaluate.html


"http"  is the protocol

"www"  is World Wide Web

"bluefield" is the second-level domain name

"edu" is the top-level domain name

"library"  is the sub-directory name

"research" is the file name

"evaluate"  is the sub-file name

"html"  stands for hypertext mark-up language (that's what the computer reads)


(2) Next you need to carefully look at the top-level domain name


"edu"  educational site

"com"  commercial business site

"gov"  US governmental/non-military site

"mil"  US military sites and agencies

"net"  networks, internet service providers, organizations

"org"  US non-profit organizations and others


Ask yourself this: Who is responsible for the page you are accessing?  Is it a governmental agency or other official source?  A university? A business, corporation or other commercial interest?  An individual?  You can generally rely on the GOV, MIL and EDU host names to present accurate information.  The NET, ORG, and COM are more uncertain and might require additional verification.


(3) Next check the vital information


A reputable web page will provide you with the following information: last date page updated, mail-to link for questions, comments, name-address information.  Now ask yourself this: If the page owner is not readily recognizable, does he provide you with credentials or some information on his sources or authority?


(4) Next check the content


On the web, each individual can be his/her own publisher, and many are.  Don't accept everything you read just because it's printed on a web page.  Unlike scholarly books and journal articles, web sites are seldom reviewed or refereed.  It's up to you to check for bias and to determine objectivity.  Look to see if the page owner tells you when the page was last updated.  Try to distinguish between promotion, advertising, and serious content.  Watch out for deliberate frauds and hoaxes.  Some folks really enjoy playing games on the web. 



(5)Also consider other Important Issues


Censorship, Freedom of Speech, and Privacy
From Yale University Library

Copyright & Fair Use
Information about copyright and fair use--for the classroom and the web. In the United States Copyright Law protects the property of all published and unpublished materials.  This means that the author holds the legal rights to the ideas, and other people cannot claim credit for the ideas.  To do so is a violation of U.S. law. 



Have you wondered why you have to put footnotes (in-text citations, etc) and a bibliography (works cited) in your research papers?  When you include a reference, you are indicating that you borrowed these ideas from some other source.  If there is no documentation of your reference, the person reading (or grading) your paper assumes that the ideas are all yours.  When you borrow an idea from someone else without giving that person credit, you are stealing an idea.  This is called plagiarism.  Plagiarism is dishonest, a form of academic misconduct.



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