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Religious Studies: Criteria for Evaluating Information Resources

Subject Research Guide

Criteria for Evaluating Information Sources

How do you know if a particular book or article or web resource is credible or reliable?  Here are some tips, divided into 2 major categories: Source Credibility, and Content Credibility.

Source Credibility

Author Credibility:

     What are the educational credentials of the author.  Does the author have an advanced degree in a discipline relevant to what they have written about? 

     What are professional credentials of the author?  Perhaps they are a faculty member in relevant discipline or field; perhaps they work for a reputable research organization such as a think tank, a museum or a library.

     Has the author written other works considered credible and reliable on the same topic or in the same discipline/field?

Publisher Credibility:

      If a book, is it published by a university or academic press?

      Is it published by a commercial publisher with a good reputation which has published quality books in the same field?

If an periodical article, is it from a scholarly or peer-reviewed journal?  Your professor should discuss scholarly and peer-reviewed sources in class.

Book Reviews

      Favorable book reviews?

Cited in bibliographies of Other Sources Known to be Reputable/Credible?

      For example, is source cited in reference work, other book, or journal article known to be reputable/credible

Do reputable academic libraries own this book or periodical?

    If a book is owned by Iona College Libraries, that is a potential indication that it is a quality resource.  Titles in the library collection have been selected by our faculty as well as by librarians who have carefully examined book reviews for quality.  

   Check other library catalogs/metacatalogs to see if other reputable libraries own this resource.  There are links to other library catalogs on our library web site.

Content Credibility

Does the publication seem biased or one-sided? 

    This is not necessarily a negative thing.  In a very real sense, there is no such thing as a completely objective, unbiased work.  If an author states his/her viewpoint and is up front about it and presents evidence to support that position, the work may still be helpful; however, if an author’s stated aim is to present both sides or multiple sides of an issue but clearly does not, this may cause one to question whether or not to use a work.  Even then, if you realize a bias, make a special effort to find another work presenting one or more other viewpoints.

Is the text well-written?

If there are many spelling and grammatical errors in the text, this may cause you to question the quality of a work. Is text well-organized?  Is sequence of information logical?  Are arguments logically stated?

Is supporting evidence presented for any opinions/assertions?

Currency, or how recent is the information?

This is not usually as important for history topics as for other field such as the sciences.
It is more important for the sciences and current event topics.