Evaluating Information Sources: How Do You Know If They Are Good?
Excellent research requires thought and care in choosing the best or most appropriate sources. Avoid settling for the first three items you find cited in an electronic or print index. You should “test” items on your working bibliography against the following standards:
Almost all publications have some type of bias or perspective - political, religious, or cultural. An American business magazine inevitably will have a certain perspective on Japanese business practices. A feminist magazine such as MS. will have a definite perspective on the right-to-life movement.
Be aware of these perspectives; try to obtain a balances perspective overall in your research by using a variety of sources. Work for balance in these areas whenever appropriate in your research:
Some publications carry more authority because they contain articles written only by seasoned scholars and researchers. Can you learn something about the authors’ reputations? Do other scholars cite them? Journal of Marriage and Family is obviously more authoritative than Ladies’ Home Journal.
You should be aware, however, that even “authorities” within a given discipline often disagree. You should not accept any scholar’s viewpoint blindly without considering other viewpoints held by well-qualified individuals in the same field.
This standard refers to having the most up-to-date information. Obviously, if you are researching AIDS vaccines, you want the most current information possible. For some research topics, you will want to balance the newest information with older information. One example may be the Israel-Palestinian conflicts. To understand the current situation, you must understand the nature of and history of the conflict which you might find in older material.
“Original” sources are primary sources - ones written or published closest in time to an event, or containing the actual text of a speech, the transcript of a news conference, etc. President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, as printed in a newspaper, is an example of a primary source.
Secondary sources analyze, and offer commentary on, primary sources. An article in Time magazine discussing the President’s speech is a secondary source. Whenever possible, use primary sources so that you can avoid the inherent biases of secondary sources.