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Evaluating Information: Getting Started

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Who, Why, When, Where, How and What?

So you've searched for information for your assignment and you've found a lot..........but is it any good?

Finding information that you are considering using in your assignment is only the first step in the research process.
Before you decide to include the information you will need to examine whether or not it is of a high enough quality.

Evaluating information carefully you will help you achieve better results in your assignments and projects.

You won’t always need to verify a sources' quality and credibility using all of the evaluation criteria below.
This is a guide and you will need to use common sense and follow your instincts when evaluating information.

WHO? Who wrote or produced the piece?  
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Are they affiliated with an educational institution or a particular organisation?
  • Have they written anything else on this topic?
  • Can you find further background information about the author on the internet?
  • Is the author cited in other books or articles on the same topic?

The author’s background and their experience and qualifications in a particular area are important in judging the credibility of their assertions.

An examination of the overall impact of Brexit on Irish exports by economist David McWilliams would be more authoritative than the opinion of a shopkeeper who might be affected by the change.

WHY? Why did the author write this piece?  
  • What is the author’s point of view? Is it objective or biased?
  • Are alternative points of view presented?
  • Why did the author make this information available?
  • Is there a sponsor or advertising?
  • Who pays to help make this information available?

Information is made available to serve a purpose; it might be to educate, entertain or sell a product or point of view.  Inaccurate, false or biased information is something to watch out for if the author’s motivation is commercial or if the organisation funding the research is aligned to a certain point of view.

A commercial website selling protein bars is unlikely to highlight high sugar content when discussing the products health benefits.

WHEN? When was the information published or last updated?  
  • Have newer sources been published on the topic since?
  • Is your topic in an area that changes rapidly and needs the most up to date information? Or is it a topic where older sources are still relevant?
  • Are links or references to other sources up-to-date?
Information can quickly become obsolete. It is important to note the date when the information was published in order to determine whether it is still relevant. Your assignment will be weakened if you support your points with facts which have since been superseded by new research.

Information in areas such as science and technology becomes obsolete faster than information in education and social science.
WHERE? Where was the information published?  
  • In a book, website, magazine, academic journal etc.?
  • Is the source credible?
  • Was the source created to persuade, sell, entertain, inform, or for another purpose?
  • Does the purpose of the source influence the objectivity of the information?

Where information is published is important to note as the publishers of the source may have an agenda or point of view which needs to be borne in mind when assessing the credibility of the information.

An article claiming that dairy foods can promote healthy aging published in the magazine Dairy Foods which is produced to promote the dairy food industry is an questionable source. The claims made would need to be validated by checking them with other less biased sources of information.

HOW? How did the author gather data?  
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Do the citations and references support the authors claim? If there are no references or bad references then this could indicate that the information is inaccurate.
  • Was the information reviewed by editors or subject experts before it was published?
  • Can the information be verified in another source?
  • Is the language or tone unbiased and free of emotion?                               

Making sure that the information you are using is backed up with reliable references and/or original research helps to validate its accuracy and credibility.

A lengthy, amusing, well written article on your topic which makes claims that offer another point of view might seem like a good source of information for your project. However if no original research is mentioned in the article and there are no references included then the information could be based only on the authors own opinion.

WHAT? What do you need the information for?  
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Is the information too technical or too simple for you to use?
  • Does the source add something new to your knowledge of the topic?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is the one you will use?

The information you are using in your assignment needs to be relevant to your topic and not too elementary or advanced for your needs.

A source giving information about Stephen Hawking’s personal life would not be very relevant if you were writing an assignment about his scientific theories.

Adapted from:

Mandalios, J. (2013) 'RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources', Journal Of Information Science, 39(4), pp. 470-478. doi:10.1177/0165551513478889.

Meriam Library, California State University (2010). Evaluating information-Applying the CRAAP test. Available at: (Accessed: 20 March 2017).

Radom, R. and Gammons, R. (2014) 'Teaching Information Evaluation with the Five Ws An Elementary Method, an Instructional Scaffold, and the Effect on Student Recall and Application', Reference and User Services Quarterly, 53(4), pp. 334-347.