What is source criticism?
Source criticism means that you critically evaluate the quality of the information on the basis of your needs and independent of medium.
Qualitative evaluation of the source
- Who is the text written for?
- What genre does the text belong to?
- What is the purpose of the text?
- Is the text fact related or does it express the sender's opinions?
- It the text objective?
- Is the information extensive and balanced?
- Are there possible conflicts of interest?
The sources of the text
- Does the author refer to other sources?
- What kind of sources are they?
- Who is the author of the text?
- What are the author's qualifications? Is s/he recognised as having knowledge in this area? Is s/he affiliated with an institution?
- Make a new search to find out more about the author and her/his other works.
- Who is the publisher of this document?
- Is it an acknowledged publisher?
- What does this publisher usually publish; do they specialise in special subjects or issues?
- Make a search to find out more about the publisher/publishing house and the other publications.
Time of publication
- When was the text written?
- Has a new edition been published?
- Is the material up to date?
You should also find out whether it is a primary or secondary source. Primary sources are original works with the words and ideas of the author; secondary sources are reports or interpretations of the primary source.
Anybody can publish on the Internet so be aware of this when evaluating web sources.
Evaluating the relevance of the source
Is the field covered by the source relevant to your information need?
- According to your problem statement:
- What is it you wish to find the answer to?
- What kind of information do you need? - Facts, argumentation, observation?
- In what way can the source throw light on the questions you are asking?
- Are your key concepts present in a primary position such as title, list of contents, summary or conclusion?
- Analysis of the text:
- What does the author wish to communicate?
- How is this communicated?
- How is the text relevant to or referring to other texts?
- Comparing sources:
- Compare the text to other texts of the same type
- Compare the argumentation
- Compare quality control
- Make further searches
The following mnemonic rule may help you remember what to look for when evaluating sources:
Look for: Knowledgeable and acknowledged author; quality control.
Look for: Objective and balanced sources; absence of conflicts of interest.
Look for: Updated source; extensive, detailed and exact information; documentation and support from other sources.
Look for: Relevance to your information need.