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Academic Skills Online

These online tutorials are designed to help you develop the academic skills you will need whilst studying at Goldsmiths.

Evaluating Information

Evaluating the information you are going to use in your assignments is a key part of the research process. You’ll need to think critically about the academic quality of the information you have found and its relevance to your work. This is particularly important if you are using information from the internet and from more obscure unpublished sources. 

Qualities of different information formats

Different information types have particular qualities and publishing processes which will affect the way that you can use them for your academic work. The table below outlines some of these. 

Journals Regularly published, often monthly or quarterly, containing articles on a particular academic subject. Presents new research. Often critically reviewed by experts (look out for the term peer - reviewed). 
Academic book  A substantial text on a particular subject that can take several years to publish. Whilst an academic book can offer an authoritative, extensive and detailed overview of a subject there may be more up to date information available from other sources such as journal articles. 
Newspapers A regular publication containing current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. May be electronic. However newspapers can be written for particular audiences so information may be sensationalised and not always balanced or well researched. 
Archive item  Archives often include unique documents, sometimes hand written. Valuable because of their association with a notable person or organisation.Primary source of information about a person or organisation. Some collections are now digitised
Websites have many functions, such as personal, social, political, educational and commercial.Electronic.Quick access to basic factual and practical information which can be regularly updated. Also good for networking and sharing.Often vary in academic quality and need to be carefully evaluated. Content and layout can be changed regularly without notice.
Feature Film Could be the object of analysis.Categorised in a variety of different genres, including romance, historical, horror and comedy. Commonly streamed online. 


Evaluation checklist

You can also use the following criteria as a checklist to help you evaluate the information you need. Click on each tab to find out more.


Don't take the facts that you read for granted.

  • Are you absolutely sure that the information you’ve found is factually accurate?
  • Can you verify the details by following up references and cross-checking facts in other sources?
  • Remember that anyone can post anything on the web so be extra vigilant when using websites.


Research Methods

The accuracy of the information you have found is also influenced by the research methodology used by the author. You can't just assume that a research report is always error-free. There are sometimes cases of inaccurate or even fraudulent research that makes it to publication. Ask yourself:

  • Is it clear how the research was carried out?

  • Were the methods appropriate - for example the sample size, use of a control group or questionnaire design?

  • Are the methods they've used and their findings suitable for the point you need to evidence? 


Evaluating 'authority' concerns questioning the author, organisation and origins of the source that you are using. Can you trust that it is a reliable and well researched piece? *
  • Can you clearly identify who the author is?
  • Have they published anything else on the same subject? 
    The author may be a university lecturer. Entering their name in a search engine may lead you to their university profile page which will list their previous publications or you could look through the library catalogue to see what else they have written.
  • Are they eminent in their field? Have you noticed them being regularly cited in other works? Some e-journal databases have a citation count which gives you an idea of how many times an article has been referenced in work by other academics. Be aware, though, that academics may also cite others even when they are disagreeing with their argument, so use citation counts with caution.

  • Can you identify an online CV or publications list? See the example above.  
  • Who published the information? Was it a reputable academic publisher?
    You can check this by looking on the publisher's website to see what else they publish, and by checking your reading lists to see if the publishers name appears frequently in the references for other recommended reading.
  • Does the method of publication affect its authority?
    • Remember that anyone can publish anything on the internet. Make sure you make a critical judgement about the information and look at the author’s credentials to help you.
    • What do you know of the editor and/or the editorial board and how their editorial policy influences what will be published?
    • Is the journal well regarded? 
    • Is the information peer reviewed? Many electronic journals do not have a peer review process.

* Remember that this is only a guide to get you thinking. You should be judging information on its own merits. Sometimes academic work is valued highly merely because it emanates from a prestigious research group or is published in an important journal but it is still not appropriate for your needs. Finding out who has written and published a piece can be a useful clue as to the reliability of the information and will influence the reader's confidence in the sources you are citing in your assignments.


Even if the information you have found is of a high academic quality you still need to establish whether its subject matter is actually relevant to your research and can be used to effectively back up your arguments.

Be careful not to add irrelevant material to your bibliography just to make it seem longer!


  • The intended audience and level of the source: A PhD thesis might be too advanced and detailed for your current needs and a GCSE textbook too basic.

  • Scope and coverage: Does the source focus on the kind of information you need – is it too general or is the emphasis on an aspect of your subject area you’ve decided not to write about? Make sure you don’t get sidetracked if your time and word count are limited.

  • Journal abstracts, reviews and summaries can often help you to quickly work out whether it is suitable for your needs. 


It is important to know when a piece of information has been published so that you can judge its currency and suitability for your needs. For many subjects that change quickly, like computing, getting up-to-date information is essential. But for other subjects with a historical context, you may need a mix of historical sources and recent academic writing.

Classic texts, such as philosophical or literary works recommended by your lecturers, may not become ‘out-of-date’ but their translations, introductions, and criticism can do.

To evaluate the currency of information you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was it written?
  • When was it published?
  • What edition is it?

Currency of books:

You can check the date a book was published by looking on the back of the title page at the beginning of the book. Check for the date of copyright to learn when it was written. Remember that new editions often have changes that may bring the book up to date with recent developments, but reprinting old editions won’t make it current.

Currency of journal articles:

Journal articles are a lot easier to date – check the issue date in their reference, for example:

Sutcliffe, J (2000)  'Recent developments for adults with learning difficulties or disabilities: the key developments in recent reports and announcements'. Adult Learning 11(6), pp.16-19.


Websites can be harder to date, but many have copyright dates at the foot of the page. Websites change over time, so it is important to cite the date you accessed the website in your references. 



It may prove impossible to find research or information that is completely objective and balances all sides of the argument. You will need to read critically and acknowledge the different positions represented, making sure you account for this when you come to use your chosen sources in assignments. If you are aware of any bias or lack of objectivity in any of your sources, it's best to state this clearly in your work.

Authors may be deliberately expressing a particular viewpoint and this is very valid if they are clear about the perspective they represent. Hidden bias, whether or not it is deliberate, can be misleading though.

Consider the following:

  • Is the author clear about the perspective and viewpoint they are taking?
  • Is the author writing to persuade you from any religious, political or emotional viewpoint? Look out for opinion presented as fact.
  • Does the author use emotionally charged language or make vague assumptions which are not backed up by evidence. 
  • Is the research funded or sponsored by an organisation that could benefit from the outcomes?
  • Is the research intended to assist with any kind of marketing?



Before using information you find on the web for assignments and research, it is particularly important to evaluate its content and decide if it’s suitable for your purposes. How can you tell if the website you have found is reliable?

There are some key questions that you can ask yourself: 

1. Can you easily identify the author of the page? It could be an individual or an organisation. 

2. Can you trust the person or organisation behind this web page? What are the author's or organisation's credentials? Are they a recognised authority on the subject? Can you find the author's CV or the organisation's publications list? Are there any commerical motivations behind this website? 

3. Where is the organisation from? Are their contact details and contact address clearly listed?

4. What does the URL tell you? What type of domain does it come from ? 
(educational, nonprofit, commercial, government, etc.) 

  • Government sites: look for .gov 
  • Educational sites: look for .edu or .ac. (Note that this can include personal student and faculty pages as well as official college and university pages)
  • Non-profit organisations: look for .org 
  • Look for country codes such as .uk, .de, .jp etc. See a list here.

5. Or is the website somebody's personal page or blog?

Personal pages are not necessarily unreliable but you need to investigate the author carefully. For personal pages, there is no publisher or domain owner vouching for the information.

6. Is the website regularly maintained? Look for a copyright date listed at the bottom of the page. Is the page current enough for your needs? Are all the links working? 

7. Is the information detailed enough for your needs? Would it actually be better to use a book or journal article to get the information you require? Are there additional publications that you can download?

8. Is the information on the website footnoted and referenced? This is can be a good indication that the information has been well researched and you can trace back the sources they have used.




Evaluating Websites Quiz