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Murphy Library Research & Information Seeking Tools: Evaluating Information

Books

Books generally provide in-depth and lengthy coverage on a given subject, but because of the amount of time involved to write and publish, the information is not always current. Lack of currency is only a concern if you are researching a topic that requires the most current information available. Books provide an excellent way to get an overview of a topic and will probably be heavily referenced with suggestions for further reading. If you are unsure of the merit of a book, consult a book review published in a professional journal of the given subject area. You can search for books in the Murphy Library Catalog.

Advantages

  • Often considered extremely reliable
  • Often include bibliographies leading to additional relevent sources

Disadvantages

  • May not have current information; check the copyright date to make sure the information isn't outdated)
  • Require more time to read, due to length (although most books have an index that makes it easy to locate relevent passages)

Book Reviews

Book reviews are good indicators of a work's value to a given subject area, especially if you are somewhat unfamiliar with a given field of study. As always, consider the source of the review. One that appears within a scholarly journal of the field in which you are doing research has more authority. See Murphy Library’s Book Review LibGuide to locate book reviews.

Newspapers

Daily newspapers are a great source for information on current events, such as climate change of crime. Older editions provide day-to-day coverage of past events such as the oil embargo and even the Civil War. Newspapers reflect our current culture and are an excellent way to stay in touch with the big issues of the day. Journalists are experts at covering and writing an informational story, however, and are not considered experts in whatever field they are writing about. Newspapers and newspaper articles are available through a variety of resources; see Murphy Library’s Finding News Articles LibGuide for more information.

Advantages

  • Often considered current and reliable
  • May include a personal story of someone affected by the issue discussed in the article
  • An excellent way to learn about issues affecting people in your city

Disadvantages

  • Do not cite references; difficult to locate research discussed in the article
  • May not contain background information
  • Authors are not experts in the field

Journal Articles

Many scholars communicate their research through journal articles. Scholarly journal articles have gone through a process called peer-review, in which other experts in the field review the research. If these experts deem the research worthy, it is published. Compared to books, journal articles tightly focus on a specific aspect of a topic, and are less useful for general overviews or histories of a topic. While a book may cover a survey of poverty in America, a journal article might be a research study on the effects of the economic downturn on children in Cleveland, Ohio. Journal articles are indexed in article databases like EBSCOhost’s Academic Search Complete and SocINDEX with Full Text; see Murphy Library’s Articles & Databases by Title and Most Popular Databases for access to these resources.

Advantages

  • Have extremely high credibility
  • Are written and reviewed by experts or specialists in the field
  • Include bibliographies that may lead you to additional relevant sources

Disadvantages

  • May be too detailed/focused to be relevent to your topic
  • May not be current (the peer review process can add 6-12 months to the publication timeline)
  • Use jargon/language specific to the field that may be difficult to understand

Internet Sources / Websites

A colleague of mine refers to the Internet as the Wild, Wild West. While he was
referring to the Internet circa 1996, the label still rings true. Anyone can post
anything on the Internet, and usually in under five minutes. The Internet is a great
resource for getting current information on a variety of topics, but you should
always carefully consider the source. Many valuable information sources are
available through the internet, but just like the books and journal article you will use
in your research, web sites need careful evaluation.

Government Documents

U.S. Government documents are excellent sources of information on a variety of topics, such as business, science, law, criminal justice, etc. These primary
documents, published under the auspices of the federal government, provide vital information such as census data, Supreme Court transactions, federal rules and regulations. Please see Murphy Library’s Government Information LibGuide for access to these resources.

Advantages

  • Often considered extremely credible
  • Often very current
  • Often contain information not available elsewhere
  • Often include bibliographies leading to additional relevent sources
  • A great source for statistical information

Disadvantages

  • Quantity of publication can be overwhelming
  • May be difficult to locate the specific publication you need

Dissertations

Dissertations generally cover a narrow topic but do so in great detail. The authority of the work is generally without question as all are produced under the guidance of an academic committee within a university. To gauge the value of the information to a given field of study, check to see if it was published. A published dissertation has made it through the extra review process of a particular press, and therefore, it is likely to be more authoritative than a similar paper that has not been published.


Advantages

  • Often considered extremely reliable
  • Written by experts in the field
  • Often include bibliographies leading to additional relevent sources

Disadvantages

  • May not have current information; check the publication date to make sure the information isn't outdated)
  • Require more time to read, due to length

Statistics

Data can present a powerful, visual way to display certain economic, demographic, or factual information supporting any number of arguments or views. Murphy
Library provides many librarian-reviewed and approved gateways through our Statistics LibGuide. Think that statistical data cannot be manipulated? Please take
a look at this book: How to lie with statistics by Darrell Huff or take a look at some of the statistical abuse as shown on this faculty web page from the University of
Washington.

Advantages

  • Offer a powerful visual of certain data

Disadvantages

  • Easily manipulated