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Tips for evaluating search results

Doing research to find resources for your paper will take time.  While it’s tempting to use only the first few resources you find, they may not necessarily be the best resources for your purposes, so it's important to evaluate the resources as you find them.  Doing so will help you to determine whether or not you need to find more resources, or if you can stop searching and move on to the next stage of the writing process.

Reading abstracts is a quick way to get the sense of the quality or usefulness of a resource. Most databases you search will provide abstracts along with the title of the work, the authors, and the publisher.

The four main points you want to think about when evaluating an article are:

  1. Authority – Who is the author? Do they have valid credentials? Look at the first few pages of an article or book to see who the author is and with which institution they are affiliated. Googling authors’ names is an easy way to find what else they have published to get a better sense of their credentials/authority. 
  2. Purpose – Who is the intended audience? What is the intended purpose of the publication?  To sway opinion?  To report out on a study they did?  Does the purpose of the resource suit your research?
  3. Content – How well does the resource address your topic? If it only partially addresses your topic, you may need to find additional resources.
  4. Currency – When was the work published? Look at when the item was published. Sometimes older material is too out of date.  If you want to find literature published within the last 5-10 years, look for a date limiter option in the database you are searching.  This is a common feature of most databases to help you refine your search results.

Finding sources appropriate for academic research requires time and critical thought.  For more detailed information on how to evaluate resources check out the Evaluating your sources unit in the Library’s Infoquest tutorial.

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