Saturday, December 2, 2006

Evaluating Print Sources

Evaluating Print Sources


Enough resources are needed to:

Support your argument

Include a variety of viewpoints and materials


Variety is necessary. Include many different resources.

Primary Sources

Contemporary accounts of an event and original documents

Examples: letters, diaries, audio-recordings of speeches, newspaper articles
Secondary Resources

Retrospective sources based on primary resources; include scientific or scholarly analysis
Examples: books, articles, editorials, reviews, scientific studies

Date of Publication

When was the source published? Remember the Information Timetable. Depending on the topic of research different materials from different time periods will be used.

Current Events ResearchUse resources that are recent and reflect current attitudes.

Historical ResearchUse a variety of resources from different time periods including both Primary and Secondary resources.

Quality and Reliability

When choosing your resources, the most difficult task is determining their quality and reliability.
This is particularly problematic when a source is found through the Internet. Some factors to think about when assessing the quality and reliability of a publication are:

What is the tone?

Who is the intended audience?

What is the purpose of the publication?

What assumptions does the author make?

What are the bases of the author's conclusions?

Does the author agree or disagree with other authors of the subject?

Does the content agree with what you know or have learned about the issue?

To help determine this, it might also help to look over the source's documentation and read some reviews of the source.

Additional Resources

Does the source provide other leads?

Documentation (i.e., footnotes and bibliography)

Provides additional resources

Substantiates the author's research

Cramer, Steven. "Part 6: Evaluating Sources." Guide to Library Research. 22 January 2001. Duke Unisversity. 15 Nov 2006 .

Friday, December 1, 2006

Evaluating Web Pages

Evaluating Web Pages for Credibility


Who wrote the page?

Look for the author's name near the top or the bottom of the page. If you can't find a name, look for a copyright credit (©) or link to an organization.

What are the author's credentials?

Look for biographical information or the author's affiliations (university department, organization, corporate title, etc.).

Can you verify the author's credentials? Could the credentials be made up?

Anyone who has visited a chat room knows that people don't always identify themselves accurately.

Did the author include contact information?

Look for an email link, address, or phone number for the author. A responsible author should give you the means to contact him/her.

Whose web site is this?What organization is sponsoring the web page?

Look at the domain (.com, .edu, .org, etc.).

Look for an "about this site" link.

Also look for a tilde (~) in the URL, which usually identifies a personal directory on a web site.

Be careful of a web page that has a tilde in its URL.

Internet service provider sites (AOL, Mindspring, MSN, etc.) and online community sites (GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc.) feature personal pages. Be careful of web pages from those sites, too.

Example of the need to verifythe author's credentials

Example of the need to considerwho's sponsoring the site

Purpose/intended audience

What is the purpose of the page? Why did the author create it?

The purpose could be advertising, advocacy, news, entertainment, opinion, fandom, scholarship, satire, etc.

Some pages have more than one purpose. For example, provides free business information but also encourages you to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or other Dow Jones products.

Who is the target audience?

academic researchers? kids? buyers of competitors' products? trekkers? political extremists?

Look at reading level of the page: is it easy to read or challenging? Does it assume previous knowledge of the subject?

Consider the design of the web page: are there banner ads and animated GIF's, or does the page present a lot of text with little decoration?

Example of the need to consider the intended audience, especially if you are researching a topic like ethnic stereotypes in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.


Is there a date at the top or bottom of the page?

But note: a recent date doesn't necessarily mean the information is current. The content might be years out of date even if the given date is recent. (The last update of the page might have consisted of someone changing an email address or fixing a typo.)

Is the information up-to-date?

This takes a little more time to determine. Compare the information on the web page to information available through other sources. Broken links are one measure of an out-of-date page.

In general, information for science, technology, and business ages quickly. Information in the humanities and social sciences ages less quickly. However, old information can still be perfectly valid.

Example of the need tocheck for currency

Objectivity v. bias

Is the author being objective or biased?

Biased information is not necessarily "bad", but you must take the bias into account when interpreting or using the information given.

Look at the facts the author provides, and the facts the author doesn't provide.

Are the facts accurately and completely cited?

Is the author fair, balanced, and moderate in his or her views, or is the author overly emotional or extreme?

Based on the author's authority, try to identify any conflict of interest.

Determine if the advertising is clearly separated from the objective information on the page.

Example of the blurring of advertising and objective information


Does the author support the information he or she uses?

Look for links or citations to sources. Some academic web pages include bibliographies.

Is the support respectable?

Does the page cite well-known sources or authorities?

Does the page cite a variety of sources?

Do other pages on the same topic cite some of the same sources?

The web page in question should have a mix of internal links (links to web pages on the same site or by the same author) and external links (links to other sources or experts).

If a web page makes it hard for you to check the support, be suspicious.

Example of the need to check the cited sources

Is the web the right place to do your research?

Some kinds of information are not available on the free web. Also, some kinds of information are easier to find using library resources.


literary criticism (begin with a literature database like the MLA Bibliography or the Literature Resource Center.)

industry analysis (a business database like S&P NetAdvantage makes it simple to find detailed, authoritative reports on industries.)

public opinion polls (while there are some good sources for polls on the web for free, the best way to begin is using the polls and public opinion section of Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe.)

So don't overlook library resources, whether online (like databases and ejournals) or in print.

Cramer, Steven. "Part 6: Evaluating Sources, Web Pages." Guide to Library Research. 14 July 2003. Duke Unisversity. 1 Nov 2006 .

Searching for Information

Dewey Decimal System

Most of the libraries use the Dewey system. Dewey is a hierarchical classification system that divides humanity's knowledge, ideas, and artistic creations into ten major categories spanning a range from 000 to 999.

The hierarchical nature of the Dewey system makes browsing books possible.

A book's call number includes more than a Dewey number, so write down the complete call number of the books you want to find.

Online Catalog

The Duke Online Catalog is your gateway to finding books (as well as journals, electronic resources, videos, and more).

You can search the catalog in six ways: Author, Title, Subject Heading, Keyword, Call Number, or ISBN and other numbers.

The yellow boxes on the catalog's various search screens provide basic information and sample searches.

Online Catalog Records

After performing a search that finds some materials, you will see a short record containing basic information.

To see the full record, select the link. The full record provides more information and more search choices.

For example, you can select an author's name to see all the books Duke has by that author. You call also select a subject heading to see all the materials Duke has on that subject.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

When you search the online catalog by subject, you must use a Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) or a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH). The library assigns subject headings to all items listed in the online catalog. This makes it easy to find books on the same topics or related topics.

Subject headings are listed in a five-volume manual called simply Library of Congress Subject Headings ("the big red books"). Sometimes you can guess the appropriate subject headings, but it's wise to check the manual to be sure. Reference librarians can help you, too.

Library of Congress Subject Headings
A Subject Search Shortcut

Using Other Libraries

Links are available on the Catalogs page.

Found something that Duke doesn't have? Fill out an interlibrary loan request form. Perkins Library's Interlibrary Loan department will borrow materials for you from other libraries.
Another possibility is using the other university libraries in the Triangle area: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University (Raleigh), and North Carolina Central University (Durham). You can use your Duke Card to check out books at these three universities yourself. The Catalogs page provides easy access to their online catalogs.
Cramer, Steven. "Part 5: Searching for Information." Guide to Library Research. 06 March 2001. Duke Unisversity. 1 December 2006