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How To Do Research: Evaluating Information

An introductory guide on the research process for graduate students.

Evaluating Information

It is important to evaluate the information you find in order to select credible resources to support your academic assignments. Credibility is considered “the quality of being believable or worthy of trust.” For sources to be credible, they must be reliable sources that provide information everyone can trust to be true. When we describe a source as “credible,” we are basically saying that the information is high quality and trustworthy. Essentially, we can believe what the source is telling us.

When you use high-quality sources to back up your points, you demonstrate your own credibility as a writer, thereby contributing to the effectiveness of your argument. The best quality research builds on other high-quality research. This is true of both your own work and the work of professional researchers.

In general, most of what you find through the CSU Library, whether it is a book, scholarly journal article, film, etc. will be a credible source. However, you should check the publisher of the information: did it come from an academic or university press? Look up the publisher's name to learn more about the materials they publish. However, be aware that the library may also have popular media which may not be a credible source of information. See our guide on Publication Types for more information on popular and scholarly sources. Use the evaluation criteria in the box below to help you evaluate a source's credibility.

Information found on the Internet can be more difficult to evaluate. The domain of a website (the suffix at the end of a web address) can be a good indicator of the the website's authority and accuracy. If the website address ends in .org, .gov, or .edu it is more likely to be a scholarly source. If it ends in .com or .net it is less likely to be a scholarly source. See this source for a list of common domain suffixes. This checklist on evaluating websites can also help you make good decisions about the web resources you select.

Additional Resources:

Evaluation Criteria

There are several factors to look for when evaluating a source’s credibility, including the author’s level of expertise, the author’s point of view, the source type, and the source’s publishing information. While other universities and libraries may have different ways to present this criteria, it is generally agreed upon that the basic points of evaluation include the following:

Currency – What is the publication date? Is the date relevant for the subject area/topic? Is it too old? Could a more recently published source provide new and/or different information?

Authority – Who is the author and/or publisher? Is the author/publisher reputable or have an established reputation in the discipline and/or field? Does the author/publisher have specific expertise or knowledge to publish on this topic?

Accuracy & Reliability – Is the information or research accurate or valid? Can the same or similar information be verified by other sources?

Audience – Who is the intended audience for the information? Is it written for a general readership, such as an article in a newspaper or magazine (popular sources)? Is it written for people who work in a specific industry (trade publications)? Is it written for a scholarly/academic audience (scholarly sources)?

Objectivity – Does the information express a specific point of view or opinion? Is the information written by an organization that supports a stated agenda? Is it based on factual evidence from research or experiment? Does the point of view affect the accuracy or reliability of the information?

Open Access Journals: Warning Signs

"Open Access" basically means that access to online content is provided for free. Just because a journal is Open Access does not mean it is not a legitimate journal; Open Access just makes it easier for unscrupulous publishers to develop publications that do engage in predatory practices. OA models have simply made it easier to engage in these types of practices. The fact that a journal charges author or processing fees is also not a good indication of lack of credibility. This is why developing the skills and tools to evaluate journals is so important. When evaluating a journal for its legitimacy, look for the following red flags:

  1. The title is extremely similar to that of a reputable journal. Look out for the use of “international” in journal titles.
  2. The journal asks for a submission fee instead of a publication fee, or the information about fees is unclear or difficult to locate. Remember, legitimate journals often do charge author fees, so the presence of a fee, in and of itself, does not mean a journal engages in predatory practices; however, the information on fees should be readily available.
  3. The editorial board is very small, unlisted, or missing contact information.
  4. The acceptance rate is very high, or the journal might even guarantee acceptance.
  5. The journal promises or delivers a very quick turnaround time, sometimes days or even hours.
  6. The website may contain grammatical or spelling mistakes, broken or missing links, or be otherwise unprofessional.
  7. The journal’s claimed affiliation does not match its editorial board or location.
  8. The content of the journal varies from the title and stated scope, or the journal attempts to include an impossibly wide scope.*

*Information from the University of South Alabama's guide to evaluating open access publications.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia can be helpful for finding background information on a topic and discovering related keywords to use in searches. An entry's cited references can even lead you to scholarly sources and help you explore your topic further. However, Wikipedia entries are NOT scholarly and should NEVER be cited as sources for your academic writing. Read the library's Wikipedia Statement for more information.

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Research Appointments

Click button to schedule a research appointment

The CSU librarians can support you during the research process with personalized reference services. We are happy to help you with the following tasks:

  • Accessing and using the CSU Library databases in order to create a peer-reviewed literature review with library resources
  • Using free personalized database folders within multiple database platforms to organize your research
  • Brainstorming keywords and recommending search limiters to use
  • Locating the dissertations and theses that may support and inform your research process