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Evaluating Information: Relevance

A research guide to evaluating print and online resources


  • Does the information relate to your topic?  Does it answer your questions?
  • Who is the intended audience?  Is the information at an appropriate level for your needs (that is, not too elementary or advanced)?
    • Thom Holmes's Dawn of the Dinosaur Age is the first volume in a 10-volume set  devoted to the prehistoric earth.  The author notes in his introduction that the entire series "is written for readers in high school."
    • Earthquakes: Plate Tectonics and Earthquake Hazards includes a bibliography titled "Further Reading and Web Sites" and a glossary.  Author Timothy Kusky writes in his preface that the book is intended for "middle- and high-school students and college students."
    • The U. S. Government Printing Office's website Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government includes games and "learning adventures" and is clearly designed for children.
    • High school students interested in the field of nursing may find Philosophical and Theoretical Perspectives for Advanced Nursing Practice too advanced for casual reading. (A reviewer on Amazon writes that "this text was required for a nursing theory course in my graduate degree program.")
  • When was the information published or posted?  Does your topic require up-to-date research, or will older sources work as well?
    • .A biology student researching a paper on current cancer research probably does not need to pore over Armin Braun's The Cancer Problem: A Critical Analysis and Modern Synthesis, published in 1969.
    • This website on endangered species, maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lets you sign up for a newsletter so you can "receive up-to-date announcements regarding endangered species."
    • Gordon Alexander Craig's The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945 may have been published more than 60 years ago, but it is still regarded as a "classic text" on the subject.
  • If the information is a web page, are the links functional?  When was the page last revised?
    • See the University of Iowa's Journalism Resources: Online Searching and Information Gathering.  The first couple of sections contain mostly dead links, and the information sources are out of date.  (For example, "Snap" is listed as a "major search engine.")
    • Cancer Research is one of the world's leading cancer journals.  Its OnlineFirst section includes articles that have been accepted for publication, "but not yet copyedited or typeset, allowing readers the most rapid access to accepted papers."
    • Art History Resources is maintained by Chris Whitcombe, a professor of art history at Sweet Briar College.  A reviewer writes that Witcombe "has perhaps the best organized gateway to art history sites on the Web.  His directory is chock-full of useful and regularly updated links."