Evaluating information

The development of the web has resulted in a plethora of information, some might say information overload. This has brought with it an increasing need to evaluate the information we are receiving. We can do this against these 7 criteria:

  • Authority – Who wrote or produced the information? What are their credentials? Who do they work for? Are they respected amongst their peers? Who is the publisher and are they respected in the field?
  • Accuracy – Is the work peer-reviewed? This is the gold standard for academic publishing. Has the research method been included and is it relevant?  The research should be able to be replicated by an independent researcher to achieve similar results if it is a quantitive research study.
  • Objectivity – Are the goals of the research stated?  Is the information provided sound and well-researched? Is any bias acknowledged such as funding? Is evidence provided for any arguments presented or conclusions drawn? Are any opposing views addressed? Are all sources used authoritative and cited? Are limitations to the study discussed?
  • Currency – When was it published? The importance of this depends on the field of study. For example in fast changing fields such as technology, science and medicine currency is more important than in areas such as history and literature.
  • Coverage – What is covered by the research? Is it comprehensive and of an appropriate depth? Does it offer unique data and new research?
  • Audience – Who is the target audience? academics? students? general public? trades or professions? a particular age or demographic group? Is there an intended bias to appeal to the target group?
  • Quality – What’s the quality of the article? Is it well organised and the structure logical? Are the main points presented clearly? Does the writing flow well with good grammar and spelling and no typos. Is the argument presented clear and not repetitive? Are the graphics appropriate, clearly labelled and understandable?

There is a lot to consider, but the more you apply this structure, the more instinctive it becomes and by utilising it you’ll ensure the accuracy of your research. You can always ask your librarian for assistance.  Library@healthyoptions.org.au.

(with thanks to Dr Elham Sayyad-Abdi at Queensland University of Technology, whose lecture slides I consulted)

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