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Darwin's Legacy: Science, Religion, and American Politics

A guide for Heather Schell's Fall 2017 UW 1020 class.

Evaluating Sources

Authority

  • Who is the author?
  • What else has the author written?
  • In which communities and contexts does the author have expertise?
    • Does the author represent a particular set of world views? 
    • Do they represent specific gender, sexual, racial, political, social and/or cultural orientations?
    • Do they privilege some sources of authority over others?
    • Do they have a formal role in a particular institution (e.g. a professor at Oxford)? 

Purpose

  • Why was this source created?
    • Does it have an economic value for the author or publisher? 
    • Is it an educational resource? Persuasive?
      • What (research) questions does it attempt to answer?
      • Does it strive to be objective?
    • Does it fill any other personal, professional, or societal needs?
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is it for scholars?
    • Is it for a general audience?

Publication and Format

  • Where was it published?
  • Was it published in a scholarly publication, such as an academic journal?
    • Who was the publisher? Was it a university press?
    • Was it formally peer-reviewed?​
  • Does the publication have a particular editorial position?
    • Is it generally thought to be a conservative or progressive outlet?
    • Is the publication sponsored by any other companies or organizations? Do the sponsors have particular biases?
  • Were there any apparent barriers to publication?
    • Was it self-published?
    • Were there outside editors or reviewers?
  • Where, geographically, was it originally published, and in what language?
  • In what medium?
    • Was it published online or in print? Both?
    • Is it a blog post? A YouTube video? A TV episode? An article from a print magazine?
      • What does the medium tell you about the intended audience? 
      • What does the medium tell you about the purpose of the piece?

Relevance

  • How is it relevant to your research?
    • Does it analyze the primary sources that you're researching?
    • Does it cover the authors or individuals that you're researching, but different primary texts?
    • Can you apply the authors' frameworks of analysis to your own research?
  • What is the scope of coverage?
    • Is it a general overview or an in-depth analysis?
    • Does the scope match your own information needs?
    • Is the time period and geographic region relevant to your research?

Date of Publication 

  • When was the source first published?
  • What version or edition of the source are you consulting?
    • Are there differences in editions, such as new introductions or footnotes?
    • If the publication is online, when was it last updated?
  • What has changed in your field of study since the publication date? 
  • Are there any published reviews, responses or rebuttals?

Documentation

  • Did they cite their sources?
    • If not, do you have any other means to verify the reliability of their claims?
  • Who do they cite?
    • Is the author affiliated with any of the authors they're citing?
    • Are the cited authors part of a particular academic movement or school of thought?
  • Look closely at the quotations and paraphrases from other sources:
    • Did they appropriately represent the context of their cited sources?
    • Did they ignore any important elements from their cited sources?
    • Are they cherry-picking facts to support their own arguments?
    • Did they appropriately cite ideas that were not their own?

Thank you to UC Berkeley Library!

Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Initial Appraisal

Author

  • What are the author's credentials? Consider where they work, education, past writings, and experience. This information is often linked to within the publication. 
  • Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?
  • Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? 
  • Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars and should be noted. 

Date of Publication

  • When was the source published? On books, the date is often on the verso of the title page. On a website, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom the page.
  • Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Depending on your topic, some areas change rapidly, others rely on historical material. 

Edition or Revision

  • Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Editions often occur in books or repeated studies. A newer edition, shows that it is revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge.
  • If you are using a web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?

Publisher

  • Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. A reputable publisher does not necessarily guarantee quality.

Title of Journal

  • Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas. 

Thank you to Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library,Ithaca, NY, USA.

Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis

Content Analysis

  • Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source.
  • Read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book.
  • Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers.
  • Note whether bibliographies are included.
  • Read the chapters that specifically address your topic.
  • Reading the article abstract and scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. 

Intended Audience

  • What type of audience is the author addressing?
  • Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?
  • Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

Objective Reasoning

  • Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda?
    • It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion.
    • Facts can usually be verified.
    • Opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts
    • Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.
  • Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence?
    • Assumptions should be reasonable.
    • Note errors or omissions.
  • Are the ideas and arguments in line with other works you have read on the same topic?
    • The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize their ideas.
  • Is the author's point of view objective and impartial?
  • Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?

Coverage

  • Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?
    • Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic?
    • You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature?
    • Primary sources are the raw material of the research process.
    • Secondary sources are based on primary sources.
    • For example, if you were researching Konrad Adenauer's role in rebuilding West Germany after World War II, Adenauer's own writings would be one of many primary sources available on this topic. Others might include relevant government documents and contemporary German newspaper articles. Scholars use this primary material to help generate historical interpretations--a secondary source. Books, encyclopedia articles, and scholarly journal articles about Adenauer's role are considered secondary sources. In the sciences, journal articles and conference proceedings written by experimenters reporting the results of their research are primary documents. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.

Writing Style

  • Is the publication organized logically?
  • Are the main points clearly presented?
  • Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy?
  • Is the author's argument repetitive?

Evaluative Reviews

  • Locate critical reviews of books in a reviewing source.
    • Is the review positive?
    • Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field?
    • Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.
  • Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among the critics?

Thank you to Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library,Ithaca, NY, USA.

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