Evaluating critical material, such as academic articles and books, can be a challenge for young scholars and researchers. Determining the authority of a critical source is not always simple, as students might not be familiar with many of the lesser-known scholars in their field and can encounter many kinds of research along the way. However, by examining several aspects of critical material, college and graduate students can properly perform a critical evaluation.
Research the author. Simple background research into the author’s qualifications can often reveal helpful information for a critical evaluation. Look into the author’s credentials, such as where he went to school. Consider the author’s reputation among his peers; see how often his work is cited in other articles and how often it appears in academic databases such as the JSTOR journal storage files. Similarly, look at the publisher’s qualifications. Determining who the publisher is, and whether the company is linked to a well-known institute or organization, can help you evaluate the author’s authority.
Consider the author’s objectivity. She should state the goals for the publication, whether it is a book or article; these goals might range from establishing legitimacy for a certain branch of academic thought to forwarding a certain agenda, such as feminism. Even if the author does not state her goals, you can see whether she exhibits a certain bias by the adjectives she chooses, and by positive or negative connotations of the words she uses. Finally, consider the information she presents; academic information should be supported by citations and should be clearly well researched.
Evaluate the quality of the information. There should be no errors, and the information should be well organized, flowing in a logical, thorough manner. Putting the information in dialogue with other sources can further determine its value. For example, if it updates or adds new information to other sources you have read, you might determine that it contributes substantially to the academic discipline. Credibility of an article is also enhanced when information is obtained from a primary source, such as a professional journal. Primary sources report original findings of research studies. Secondary sources analyze or synthesize data from studies previously reported.
Determine the currency of the publication. Though this has nothing to do with the quality of the article itself, it will help you evaluate what use such an article has for contemporary scholars. First and foremost, look at when it was published; if the source has been updated or revised in a subsequent edition, find that edition. Evaluate whether your subject needs current information: Certain topics will not require cutting-edge research to be relevant.
Note whether the information and opinions shared by the author are backed up by verifiable facts from reputable sources that are documented in the text of the article or provided as links to web sites. Scholarly sources of information, such as scholarly journals, are considered more trustworthy than popular sources of information, such as news magazines. Articles in scholarly journals are vetted by qualified peers prior to publication to ensure quality and authenticity.
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