You can begin evaluating a physical information source (a book or an article for instance) even before you have the physical item in hand. Taking a look at the bibliographic citation can tell you quite a bit about the source. A bibliographic citation is the written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material that appears in an online library catalog or index. Bibliographic citations usually have three main components: author, title, and publication information. These three pieces of information can help you determine if the source will be useful to you for a research project. For online sources, you can assess the usefulness of a web site by carefully examining the home page for those three main components: author or creator, title, and publisher of the page.
- What are the author's credentials? This includes information about where he or she works, his or her educational background, the topics the author has written about in the past, and the author's experience. It is important to ask if the book or article you've found by the author was written on a topic in the author's area of expertise (or if not). You can search Who's Who publications found in the reference section of your library as well as the biographical information located in the publication itself to determine the author's affiliation and credentials.
- Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are frequently cited by other scholars. When researching, be sure to note those authors who appear in many different sources.
- Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? Can you determine the basic values and goals of that organization?
- Is the journal a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal? If so, the author -- and therefore, the research -- have gone through a review process to ensure validity. If it is not a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, then the author may be a credible source, but you'll want to look further into their background.
Date of Publication:
- When was the source published? In print books or journals, you can often locate this date on the title page below the name of the publisher, or on the next page with the copyright information. On web pages, the date of the last revision will usually be at the bottom of the home page; in other instances, you'll find the last updated date at the bottom of every page. Some web pages may not have a last revised date, but will have a copyright date -- that's the date you will need to use.
- Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development -- such as technology, the sciences, economics, and current political affairs -- call for the most current information. At the most extreme, many of today's news sources online note the hour and minute the articles were posted on that site. On the other hand, topics in the humanities (literature and history are great examples) often require material written many years ago.
Edition or Revision:
- Is this a first edition of this publication? Later editions (second, third, etc.) indicate that a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, to include omissions, or that the text has been rewritten to further meet the intended reader's needs. Many printings or editions of a source may indicate that the work has become a standard source in that area of scholarship and can be considered as a reliable source. For online sources, this can be indicated with revision dates.
- Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. But, the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, though it does show that the publisher probably has high regard for the source being published.
Title of Journal: