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Evaluating Information

Discover ways to critically evaluate the information you find.

Learning how to critically evaluate information sources is not only a key academic attribute but a useful life skill. You need to be selective and consider potential issues around the authority and accuracy of the information you find.  This will help you to make informed decisions about the quality of the information, its reliability and what role it could play within your studies.

Evaluating academic information

Your lecturers will usually expect you to use academic information in your work: authoritative sources such as textbooks and peer-reviewed journal articles. Academic information is usually written by subject experts and reviewed by other experts (or peers) in the field before it is published. This peer-review process ensures that the information you read has been checked for quality, importance and originality, and that it can be trusted and relied upon to support and evidence your own work. When performing a search in Library Search or one of your subject databases, it's therefore good practice to look out for options to limit your search to scholarly or peer-reviewed publications.

However, even if an article has been peer-reviewed, you still need to evaluate it for your own purposes. While it may be considered a high-quality piece of academic work, it could be outdated or might not be relevant to your topic or assignment.

Evaluating non-academic information

There may be times when 'non-academic' sources such as newspapers, videos or blogs will also be useful. Sometimes these sources will be simply be used as background reading. At other times, you may directly cite them in your work. Either way, such material won't generally have been through an academic peer-review process, so you will need to take particular care to demonstrate that you have critically evaluated it.

How to Evaluate Information

Evaluating information is about having a critical and curious approach, and asking questions is a simple way to start. When evaluating a resource, look to establish the authority, relevance, currency, reliability, accuracy, and purpose of the information.

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Looking laterally

When researching online, you may need to look beyond the information in front of you in order to properly answer these six evaluative questions, and to be certain a source is credible. 

A recent study at Stanford University suggests that Lateral reading  can be an effective, time saving method for critically evaluating digital information. It involves quickly scanning the source, then fact checking information by comparing it to information from a range of other sources.  This might involve searching the web for information about the author to confirm their expertise, looking for reliable background information about organisations, or using academic information sources to confirm the facts and data presented.

It can be easy for inaccurate or fake information to be packaged in a credible looking format online, so the key is to check the source is reliable before you spend time evaluating the content in depth.

Fake news

With the massive proliferation of news and information via social media and other channels, claims and discussion about fake news have grown exponentially. As a university student, it is crucial to arm yourself against such misinformation.

Develop your resistance to fake news, learn how to spot misinformation, and explore ways to check the facts with these resources.