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Info Skills Road Trip: 4 - Evaluating sources: Checklist for quality

Look critically at your sources

It can seem difficult to judge the value of the sources we have found. If you know what to look for early on you can quickly discard any poor quality sources and spend your valuable time using sources that are worth your while.

Below is our checklist again, but with a more detailed description of what to look for and why. When looking at the checklist, remember Ideas Town where we explored the different types of sources.

Look for these things first


Prof. Terry Hughes
You must be able to clearly see who has created the work that you are viewing. This may be either a person's name or sometimes the name of an organisation.
The other important thing to look for are the academic credentials of the author. It may tell you in the front of the book or at the top of the article. You could also look in One Search to see if they have written other things on the topic. You could even try Google to get background information. There are other more detailed ways to check, but these will do to start with.
He has the authority!
For instance, Professor Terry Hughes is an authoritative author in marine science.
Why? Well if you look for articles or books on coral reefs or marine biology you are sure to see his name sooner rather than later. On these you will see his affiliation, that is the organisation he was working for when the article, book chapter or book was written. You can also easily see a list of things Prof Hughes has published in ResearchOnline@JCU.

The currency of the sources you find is important. You should prefer newer items over old.* Generally this means around five years old.

In some fields such as health and economics this is quite a strict rule, because the field is advancing and changing so rapidly, in other fields the timeline may be more flexible. Check your subject outline to see if it guides you on this - if it doesn't just ask your lecturer or tutor, they will tell you what they expect.

The good news is, almost all places you search including One Search allow you to limit to the date range you want so there is no need waste time on sources that are outdated.

*As always there are exceptions to every rule! Sometimes you may want to use something older because it is still an authoritative source. This could be a text book or an author your lecturer or tutor recommended. This might be the seminal (or classic) work on a subject. For example Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species".

This is related to the currency of the source, but you are more likely to see it on a published book. If you can see an edition statement on a book showing that it is the third edition of the title, this indicates the original book was well received and so it was updated and republished If you can see that the book was reprinted, this indicates that the book sold well and people still wish to purchase it - potentially a good source. You can see this on the page after the title page e.g. 2003, 2006, 2010.

If you are looking at a periodical -  also called a journal, rather than a book the length of time it has been published is an indication of its quality. For example, if you are looking at an article that was recently published in Volume 130 of a journal, this shows it has been around a long time and is a good source to use. If a journal article is recent and is in Volume 1 of a journal, it doesn't mean it is necessarily bad, but it has not had time to prove itself - so if you are unsure, don't take the risk. There are places that you can check the reliability of a journal, just ask a librarian.
Scholarly publishers
The publisher of the source you are using is also important. University Presses are a good example of reputable publishers. Many commercial publishers are affiliated with scholarly societies and publish reputable books.

Choosing a book this way doesn't guarantee it is good quality writing, but it is a good indicator, as the publisher needs to maintain their reputation. It is important to be aware of vanity publishers – these are when an author can pay to be published, generally meaning there is no review process and thus the quality of the book may be poor.

It is important to use scholarly sources for your assignments. This means sources that have been approved by other experts in the field we are learning about. Using scholarly sources isn’t a completely failsafe method of ensuring your source is accurate, but given the steps that must be followed to publish scholarly sources they are less likely to have mistakes or be particularly biased to a certain point of view. In other words, scholarly sources are more accurate and balanced. 
The main places to source your scholarly information are books published by University or academic presses or peer-reviewed journal articles. Peer-reviewed articles are sent out by an editor to experts on the same topic as the paper. They review it to ensure it is accurate and contributes to the subject under discussion. This process produces work that is of a higher quality than articles that are not peer-reviewed. There are some scholarly resources that are not peer-reviewed, but are considered scholarly because of their audience.


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