Studying Effectively
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Evaluating information

No information is entirely neutral. To use it effectively you need to know the context in which it was produced. Not all information is equally reliable; you need to choose the most authoritative sources.

Remember that your responses to information are not neutral either - your own attitudes, beliefs and experience will affect how you receive it.

Knowing which information to trust

Who wrote it?

Books / Articles
Is the author well-known in the field? Is the publisher a reputable one? Is the journal peer-reviewed i.e. are the articles assessed by an editorial commitee of reputable scholars before publication?

Websites
Is the site a personal one or one provided by an institution/company/organisation?

 
When was it written?

Books / Articles
When was it originally published? If a while ago, has the information been revised? If it is a book, is it the most recent edition?

Websites
When was the site last updated? This information is often near the bottom of the web page.

 
Who was it written for?

Books / Articles
Look at the preface or introduction of a book - the intended audience will often be indicated there. Periodicals may have this information on their title page.

Websites
Is there a page called 'about us' or 'what we do'? check there to find out the aims of the site.

 
Why was it written?

Books / Articles
Check the introduction or preface; the journal title page; the publisher's blurb on the back cover; perhaps the final chapter. Is the information apparently there for its own sake or is it there to have a particular effect on you? What kind of style is the text written in - neutral and factual or impassioned and persuasive?

Websites
Sometimes the appearance of a site can indicate how reliable it is. You might not expect serious scholarly discussion from a site covered in comic graphics.

 

 

You should also beware of poor spelling and grammar, or obvious errors of fact.  If authors can't be trusted with language or facts, can they be trusted to give accurate information? 

Evaluating information on the Web

Take particular care when evaluating information you find on the Web. Watch out for:

  • Advertising and sponsored links
  • Political, commercial or individual bias
  • Propaganda by organisations with an agenda
  • Personal opinion, e.g. much of what is written in blogs
  • Personal websites

Examples of good quality websites

The table below identifies the types of information which can be found on the Web and lists examples of good quality websites which provide access to it. However, even with quality websites such as these, you still need to watch out for bias!

Examples of good quality information


Government organisations Department of Health
Academic institutions University of Melbourne
Professional bodies Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
Companies Rolls-Royce
Charities British Heart Foundation
Government information UK Legislation
News media BBC News website
eLearning tutorials Virtual Training Suite
Data Fossil and Surface Pollen Data
Statistics UK Statistics Authority
Images UK Met Office
 
 

Identifying bias

Which one (if either) of these statements do you believe?

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Copyright on the Web 

Material you find on the Web is still bound by copyright laws. The following websites provide advice on what you can and can't use:

 
 

Finding websites provides further guidance on using the Web effectively.

Remember to use the Web selectively when searching for information. There may be more suitable Types of information resources available for your studies.

Critical appraisal

Critical appraisal techniques allow you to assess the trustworthiness and relevance of information, by indentifying:

  • The strengths and weaknesses of research
  • The applicability of the methodology chosen to research the topic
  • Any indications of potential bias.

These skills will allow you to quickly identify information that is of high value and reject poor quality information.

Use the critical appraisal tutorial for more information and to learn relevant techniques.  Note that this tutorial is aimed at health science students but is useful for anyone undertaking scientific research.

 

Evaluating information
Evaluating information
 

Further reading

Creative and critical thinking

Reading and interpreting sources and data 

Finding resources

Practical strategies for managing reading

More from Academic Support study resources

Copyright

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service

 
 

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