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Texts and Criticism: ENG 3096

Research help for the course, Texts and Criticism.

Videos on Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Assessing Expertise

Lateral Reading

Videos on Reading Strategies

E-reading Strategies

Understanding Academese

Tips 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.

Tips for Evaluating Articles

Printed journal article with pens and highlighters laying beside it.When working with journal articles, (peer-reviewed, scholarly, academic, etc.), be sure to ask yourself:
  • Does the article's topic seem to fit with the journal's disciplinary focus?
  • Who is the author? Can you locate the author's credentials?
  • How old is the article? Will this matter for your topic? Currency of information can be important. Some aspects of a topic may need currency more than others.
  • 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:

  • Look at the journal title information. The title of the journal should tell you what field the article came from. Likewise, visit the journal's website or use a library database to find out 1) the focus/scope of the journal, and 2) if the journal uses a peer-review process to edit articles.  
  • Check the first and/or last page of the article for details about the author's credentials.
  • Look near the beginning of the article for mentions of how the overall argument connects with the broader scholarly conversation (e.g. Introduction or Literature Review sections).
  • Look at the body of the article for examples given -- e.g. scenes analyzed, survey results, primary research findings, case studies, incidents.
  • Look at the end of the article for a list of references consulted -- e.g. a works cited, bibliography, or endnotes. There may also be footnotes at the bottom of the pages throughout the article. Any of these can lead you to other sources.

Tips 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 period? 
  • Is there balance between the individual's achievements and strengths and their 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." 

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 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.)