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Information Literacy Strategies: Analyzing Information

In this guide you will find suggested strategies for finding, evaluating, and using information.

Critically Analyze Information Sources

Evaluating a source can begin even before you have the source in hand. You can initially appraise a source by first examining the bibliographic reference. A bibliographic reference  is a written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material. Bibliographic references usually have three main components: author, title and publication information. These components can help you determine the usefulness of this source for your paper.


Initial Appraisal




What are the author's credentials in this area (educational background, past writings, or experience)? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise?


Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name referenced in other sources or bibliographies?


             Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.


            Date of Publication


When was the source published?


             This date is often located on the face of the title page below the name of the publisher. If it is not there, look for the copyright date on the reverse of the title page.


Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic?


             Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information.


             On the other hand, topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago.




Is this a first edition or not?


Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, included omissions, and to harmonize with its intended readers' needs.


             Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable.




Is this a scholarly or a popular journal?


             This distinction is important because it is indicative of different levels of complexity in conveying ideas.


             If you need help in determining the type of journal, see Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals, check your journal title in or ask the library staff.


Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. Read the Preface to determine the author's intentions for the book. Scan the Table of Contents and the Index to get a broad overview of the materials it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic.


Content Analysis


            Intended Audience


What type of audience is the author addressing?


             Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?


             Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced or just right for your needs?


            Objective Reasoning


Is the information stated fact, opinion, or propoganda?


             It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion.


             Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts.


             Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.


Does the information appear to be valid and well researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence?


             Assumptions should be reasonable.


             Note errors or omissions


Is the author's point of view objective and impartial?


             The language should be free of emotion-rousing words and bias?




Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic?


             You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.


Is the material primary or secondary in nature?


             Primary sources are the raw material of the research process.


             Secondary sources are based on primary sources.


             Click primary and secondary sources for examples of both.


           Writing Style


Is the publication organized logically?


             The main points should be clearly presented, the text easy to read, and versatile


      Evaluative Reviews


Locate critical reviews of books in a reviewing source, such as Book Review Digest Plus.


             Is the review positive?


             Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field?


             Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.


             Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among the critics?


Note: Parts of the guide are directly from this source and others adapted have been from it:
Reference Department; Instruction, Research, and Information Services (IRIS); Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA