Questions to Ask
You will need to evaluate each resource you use for research, whether it is an online or print journal article, a website, a book, a newspaper article, or other source that you want to cite. Use the questions below to critically analyze materials and to assess how appropriate they will be for your research. Keep in mind that many publications have a particular bias or agenda, which may not be obvious at first glance. Don't expect to be able to answer all the questions below, all the time, for all information resources you look at. Rather, try to use the questions as a tool to help you look at sources critically.
|Author or Organization||
Why Question the Author or Source?
Why Question the Accuracy of a Source?
When you search the web, you will usually find a combination of online scholarly journal articles (many provided to you by UBC Library) and other websites. While individual websites may be written by experts and have some sort of editing process in place, there is no overall system for vetting the web. This lack of review and revision process means that not all Web pages are reliable or valuable. Documents can easily be copied and falsified, or copied with omissions and errors - intentional or accidental.
Data presented in a source may be original work by the author, or may be taken from another source. Just because data is presented in an attractive graph or chart, it doesn't mean it's accurate. For more information on good and bad graphs, see Gallery of Data Visualization.
Know what kinds of publications you need for your research so that you are looking for the correct type. If you are required to use articles from scholarly publications and/or popular magazines see Types of Materials to compare the differences between the two.
Why Question the Currency of a Source?
Why Question the Objectivity of a Web Page?
Why Question the Coverage of a Source?
|Purpose and Audience||
Why Question the Purpose and Audience of a Source?
Need help? Ask a librarian for assistance!
Types of Materials
Be sure to follow your instructor's guidelines on the types of materials that are required for an assignment.
Scholarly and Popular Journals
If you are required to use articles from scholarly publications and/or popular magazines use the table below to compare the differences between the two. Not all the criteria will be met for every journal, and there will be exceptions, but being aware of the differences will help you to select sources appropriate to your research needs.
|Scholarly Journals||Popular Magazines|
|Examples|| Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
Water, Science and Technology
| Time |
who are usually experts in narrow fields
| Journalists |
|References||Includes references, bibliographies or footnotes||Rarely includes references, bibliographies or footnotes|
|Edited by?||Submitted articles are subjected to a rigorous peer-review process by researchers, professionals and/or students of the field||Submitted articles may be reviewed by journalists and lay people|
|Language|| Specialized language of the discipline is used
Often includes tabulated data, graphs and diagrams
|Language is non-technical|
|Contents|| Always includes an abstract
Lengthy articles of original research
In-depth analysis of topic
Substantial book reviews
| Shorter articles of general interest |
Coverage of current events/news
Some brief book reviews
|Presentation and Graphics|| Less flashy, more "serious" in appearance
Advertisements are rare (an exception is medical journals)
Articles are often divided into explicitly named (and sometimes numbered) sections
| More eye-catching appearance |
Types of Sources
It is important to know the differences between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. See below for characteristics and examples of these three forms of texts as appropriate to the sciences:
Characteristics and examples of primary, secondary and tertiary sources in the sciences
- In research journals
- Usually only include references to other primary sources
- Covers very focused and specialized topics
Example: The journal Boundary-Layer Meteorology
- Research writings or graduate level text
- Generally include a large bibliography
- Usually bibliographic references are primary sources
- Topic coverage is more focused than tertiary, but less focused than primary
Example: The book Atmospheric Boundary Layer, by J.R. Garratt, 1992.
- Undergraduate text, or a textbook designed for a course
- Sparse references, generally secondary sources
- General and very broad topic coverage
Example: The book The Atmosphere, by R.A. Anthes, et al., 2nd ed. 1978
- Evaluating Web Content from the University at Albany Libraries
- Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask from the Berkeley Libraries
- Critical Evaluation of Resources on the Internet from the University of Alberta Libraries
- Checklist for Evaluating Web Resources from the University of Southern Maine
Evaluating Information Sources is an amalgamation of two previous webpages: Criteria for Evaluating Internet Resources, originally developed by Aleteia Greenwood and Professor Douw Steyn; and Criteria for Evaluating Print Resources, originally developed by Aleteia Greenwood, with invaluable expertise from Deb Wilson, Douw Steyn and Lee Gass. The current combined page features new categories and examples and is maintained by Ursula Ellis, Librarian, UBC Library: 604.827.4862, firstname.lastname@example.org