Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Writing a Paper for Your Anthropology Class: Evaluating the Quality of Information

Information provided by: (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2020, from http://web.archive.org/web/20180723183700/http://gethelp.library.upenn.edu/PORT/evaluate/

Relevance

Relevant information is about your topic and helps to answer your question. Some of the information may be related to the concepts in your topic and yet still not be relevant. To make good relevance judgments you need to know a good deal about your topic and what sorts of information are available. To determine the relevance of information you need to answer the following questions and use the answers to make smart decisions:

  • What is your research question?
     
  • What information would help to answer it?
     
  • Do you need popular or scholarly resources?
     
  • Do you need opinions or more objective information?
     
  • What formats (book, journal, magazine, newspaper, etc.) of information resources would be useful?

Currency

Information about an event will appear over time in different types of resources. Depending on the type of research you are doing, you may need to consider the time frame in which the information has been published. This time line indicates the minimum amount of time after an event takes places or an idea is developed that information about it filters into various types of media. Information may always appear later.

What to look for - Time-Sensitive Research:

  • Research about current events

Research about events occurring in the present or very recent past must rely on media with a short information cycle. Events that happened less than a week ago may only be covered on the Internet, newspapers and radio transcripts.

  • Research that relies on time-sensitive information and theory

Researchers needing current data such as statistics, scientific breakthroughs or current events may want to use journals, newspapers or even the Internet to access information. Furthermore, researchers should be careful with older works that may be dated.

  • Time sensitive historical research

Researchers needing primary resources that are very contemporary with an event will likely have more luck using newspapers, magazines and personal accounts from that time period than using books or journal articles, which often appear long after the event being considered.

 

Problems that can arise when you don't consider the currency of the information:

  • The information may have been proven incorrect.
  • More recent interpretations may have become standard.
  • You may use a source that isn't relevant to your topic.
  • Scholars may see that you have used inappropriate sources and disregard your research.

Accuracy

Even if a work is credible, it may not be accurate. It might rely on or present incorrect information. This is a particular problem when the work is old, emotionally charged or addresses a disputed or unclear issue. Look for the following signs to determine whether a work is accurate:

  • the work uses facts and presents results that agree with your own knowledge of the subject
     
  • the work uses facts and presents results that agree with those of other specialists in the field
     
  • the work provides clear explanations of how data was gathered and results were reached
     
  • the work provides citations and detailed explanations of reasoning
     
  • the work addresses theories and facts that may negate the main thesis

Credibility

A credible resource is one that is deserving of belief. A credible resource may provide incorrect or misleading information, but it is much less likely to do so than is a resource that lacks credibility.

Signs of a Credible Source:

Sources of information can usually be determined to be credible or not by considering who is responsible for the information in it, who made it available, and where you learned about it:

•  Signs of a credible author

  • advanced degree (PH.D, MD, JD, etc.) in the area being written about
  • affiliation with an institution of higher learning
  • reputation as an expert within area of publication
  • relevant publication record

•  Signs of a credible publisher

  • publisher has a reputation for scholarly publishing
  • publisher is affiliated with a university, college or other research institution
  • there is an editorial board consisting of multiple experts in the field
  • the board makes its decisions on the basis of the results of a blind review process

•  Signs of a credible referring source

  • reference is from a professor or other expert
  • reference is from a scholarly database (MLA, Medline, etc.)
  • reference is from a scholarly reference work (Encyclopedia of Religion, etc.)
  • reference is from a citations or bibliography of a scholarly book or journal article

 

Problems might you run into if you don't use a credible source:

  • Incorrect information
  • The information may lead you towards a flawed analysis
  • Scholars may see that you have used untrustworthy information assume that your research is untrustworthy as well

Bias

According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, bias is "an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment: PREJUDICE." All authors have inclinations of outlook and are to some degree biased, but bias damages the reliability of some works more than others.

Signs suggesting bias:

  • the work is created by a person or organization that is committed to a viewpoint that may color their views on the subject at hand
  • the work is published by a person or organization that would benefit by promoting a particular point of view
  • the work is actively trying to sell a product or service
  • the work does not document information or cites unscholarly or biased works

The Cautious Researcher Should:

  • learn about the author of a work to identify particular interests and commitments that may lead to significant bias
  • independently verify facts and statistics with a reliable source
  • consider whether the biased analysis is the only one that fits the data
  • try to identify general and specific ways in which the bias may have influenced the argument