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Introduction to American Writing: ENG 2502

Research help for the course, "Introduction to American Writing."

Considerations for Evaluating Books

stack of booksWhen working with book materials (whole books, edited works, book chapters, etc.), be sure to ask yourself:

  • Who is the author? Can you locate the author's credentials?
  • Was the book published recently? Has it been revised or updated? Does that make a difference?
  • Who is the publisher? For example, is it a university press or academic publisher (i.e. Oxford University Press)?
  • Is the information presented objectively? Are there any potential biases?
  • Does this information add to or support your research?

To help answer the above questions, below are places to look:

  • Check the book jacket or back of the book for biographical information about the author(s).
  • Check the back of the title page for publication date and publisher information. 
  • Look at the first few pages for an introductory message or preface to learn more about the work's purpose or any biases that may be present.
  • Look near the back of the book for a list of references -- e.g. a works cited, bibliography, or endnotes -- to determine where the author(s) got the information. There may also be footnotes at the bottom of the pages throughout the book.

Considerations for Evaluating Biographies

Tipped scalesBiographies, like any piece of information, need to be evaluated carefully.  Below are a few checkpoints for evaluating biographies.

  • Is the biography complete or partial? Does the biography span the entire life of the individual, or does it focus on one aspect of the individual's life (e.g. early years, family, later years, etc.)? Note that while one kind is not better than the other, depth and complexity can differ.
  • Is there evidence of careful research? Look for a bibliography, sources for further research, end notes, or author's notes to explain what sources the biographer used.
  • When was the biography published? What is the copyright or update date? Older biographies can be excellent and telling (for their brevity or perspective), but newer biographies may include new information based on recent research.
  • Is the author of the biography qualified to write on this individual and topic? Is the biographer a noted scholar of the individual or the historical literary period? 
  • Is there balance between the individual's achievements and strengths and his/her weaknesses? Is the biographer overly favorable or overly critical of the individual? Does the biography seem to deviate from reality?
  • Are there any available reviews of the biography? For book-length biographies, look for book reviews that may mention whether the book might be biased or the content lacking in factual documentation.
  • Consider why some individuals have many biographies written about them while others have few or none. If there are several biographies about an individual, compare any available book reviews of different biographies to see which one is considered the best or is identified as the "definitive source." 

Evaluation Criteria

Tilted scalesUse the criteria below to help you evaluate a source. As you do, remember:

  • Each criterion should be considered in the context of your topic or information need. For example, currency changes if you are working on a current event vs. a historical topic.

  • Weigh all four criteria when making your decision. For example, the information may appear accurate, but if the authority is suspect you may want to find a more authoritative site for your information.

  • When in doubt about a source, talk about it with your professor or a librarian.

Criteria to consider:

  1. Currency: When was the information published or last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?
  2. Relevance: Is this the type of information you need (ex. a research study or scholarly article)? Is it related to your topic? Is it detailed enough to help you answer questions on your topic?
  3. Authority: Who is the author or creator of the information (can be an individual or an organization)? Are they an expert on your topic? Has the source been peer reviewed? Who is the publisher? Are they reputable?
  4. Accuracy: Is the information true? What information does the author cite or refer to?  Is this a research study with methods you can follow? Can you find this information anywhere else? Can you find evidence to back it up from another resource? Are studies mentioned but not cited (this would be something to check on)? Can you locate those studies?
  5. Purpose/perspective: What is the purpose of the information? Was it written to sell something or to convince you of something? Is this fact or opinion based? Is it unfairly biased?

Video Tutorials on Evaluating Sources

Video Tutorials on Reading Strategies

Books on Improving Your Reading & Analytical Skills

Reading & Interpreting Sources

ReadingAfter you have decided that a source is potentially useful, read it carefully and critically, asking yourself the following questions about how this research fits your writing project:

  • How relevant is this material to your research question?
  • Does the source include counterarguments that you should address?
  • How persuasive is the evidence? Does it represent opposing viewpoints fairly? Will the source be convincing to your audience?
  • Will you need to change your thesis to account for this information?
  • What quotations or paraphrases from this source might you want to use?

Adapted from Easy Writer (4th ed.)

Strategies for Reading Sources Better

The SQ3R Reading Method is a reading comprehension method named for its five steps: survey, question, read, recite, and review. It is a useful method for retaining more information when reading books or articles.

Survey -- Look over the text and pay attention to titles, summaries, headings, captions, graphs, diagrams, bold print, italicized words, images, and other important information related to the structure of the text. With advance knowledge of what information the text contains, you will be better focused when reading.  

Question -- Come up with questions about the content as you survey the various sections of the text, and write them down. When formulating your question use terms such as who, what, where, when, why, how, compare, contrast, describe, explain, list and trace.

Read -- Actively look for answers to your questions as you read the text.

Recite -- Answer the questions out loud (or on paper) in your own words. Are you able to answer in your own words? If not, re-read the section again and formulate another response to the question. You may want to revise your question, now that you are more familiar with the topic.

Review -- Reread your notes, highlight, take additional notes, or ask more questions.