Research Guides

Evaluating Print Sources / Documents

Every book, journal article or other print source needs to be evaluated by specific criteria to ensure the source is trustworthy, reliable and useful for academic research.

Here are 4 criteria we use to evaluate print sources.

Evaluation of Print Documents

How to interpret the Basics

Author / Publisher / Authority
Is the author's name recognized as an authority in the field of research? Have you seen the author’s name in other print publications on this topic or has the author been cited by others? Though this is not a requirement (because they may be previously unknown such as a Nobel prize winner) it does help indicate a history of reliability and authority.
Is the publisher a recognized source for the subject area / field of research? Some publishers are noted for specializing in certain subject areas. However, this is not a guarantee of quality (even reputable publishers produce poor quality content).
Date of publication (also editions / revisions)
When was this material published? Date is important for current and changing research (e.g. cancer research).
Is it curent or "out-of-date"?? Date is not necessary an issue for historical research, historical events or ‘seminal’ works.
Is there a more recent edition or revision of the material? Check to see if the material has been updated in a second (or 3rd etc) edition.
What is the breadth and depth of the content? Is the topic / subject covered with sufficient breadth or depth for your needs?
Is there a table of contents or an index provided? Table of contents / index are navigational tools to help find relevant content
Are there references, footnotes, endnotes, a bibliography? References and bibliographies provide more possible sources for your research.
Is the content ‘one-sided’, argumentative, or opinionated? One-sided viewpoints can be useful. But be aware of any biases in the material.
Who was the work written for (who is the intended audience)? Is the work written for the general public, for academics and/or specialists? High school, college, university, or graduate level readers? Material written for specialists might be too complex for your needs or if written for a high school level might be too simplistic for your research.
Is the content ‘fact’, interpretation and/or ‘opinion’? ’Facts’ tend to be verifiable (gold is a ‘soft’ yellow metal). Interpretation or opinion may start from facts but application is subjective (gold is essential to stable national economies).

Putting it all together

If your print document / source has a reliable author and/or publisher, offers current information (if required), demonstrates accuracy and objectivity with sufficient breadth and depth, and is written for your academic level then you may have a reliable Print source for your research!
Using a print document that does NOT meet these criteria:

Can you use a print source that does NOT meet all these criteria?
 Sometimes it is acceptable to use content from a source site that does not meet these standards.  If you are doing research on Holocaust denial you may need to use sources by organizations that deny the Holocaust.  However, it would be a good idea to note in your paper that information from such sources may be questionable and is used for the purpose of illustration.