Skip to main content

Agriculture: Evaluating Resources

How do you evaluate resources?

For many academic research projects, instructors will require that you research many different types of resources.  Often it is difficult to recognize the value of a particular resource.  Below is a list of six criteria for evaluating resources, and questions or topics that you should consider when identifying the best and most appropriate books, articles, and web sites for your research.

Remember that, unlike books and articles which are approved by publishers, web sites can be created by anyone and made available on the World Wide Web freely.

Adapted from University of St. Thomas Library.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Three basic types of resources

Sources of information are considered primary, secondary, or tertiary depending on their originality (did the writer do the original work, or are they commenting on the work of others?) and their proximity or how close they are to the source (is this a first-hand account, or somewhat after the fact?)

Here is a very general overview of how information is produced.  Note that these distinctions are not rigid; the same resource can overlap categories.

  • Primary - Direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research project. Thus, a primary source can be almost anything, depending on the subject and purpose of your research.
     
  • Secondary - Books, articles, and other writings by scholars and researchers build on primary sources by interpreting, analyzing, and assessing primary information.  Secondary materials often have a persuasive, analytical aim not characteristic of primary material.
     
  •  Tertiary - Encyclopedias, indexes, textbooks, and other reference sources which present summaries of or introductions to the current state of research on a topic, summarize or condense information from primary and secondary sources, or provide a list of primary and secondary sources of more extensive information. 

Accuracy

Are sources of information and factual data listed, and available for cross-checking?

Books Articles Websites
  • Is there a table of contents?
  • Does it include footnotes and a bibliography?
  • Does it include footnotes and a bibliography?
  • Does it include footnotes and a bibliography?


Authority

Who is responsible for the work and what are their qualifications and associations, and can you verify them?

Books Articles Websites
  • Does it identify the author? Is there biographical information or do you need to look elsewhere? Is the author an expert in the field? Is s/he associated with an organization that does research on this topic?
  • Does it identify the author? Is there biographical information or do you need to look elsewhere? Is the author an expert in the field? Is s/he associated with an organization that does research on this topic?
  • Does it identify the author? Is there biographical information or do you need to look elsewhere? Is the author an expert in the field? Is s/he associated with an organization that does research on this topic? What does the domain name tell you about the location of the web site
  • Who is the publisher? Is it a university press, a commercial publisher, a professional or trade association, the government, or is it self-published?
  • In what type of journal/magazine does the article appear? Is it a scholarly journal, trade journal, or a magazine?
  • .edu = educational institutions
    .com = commercial/ business organizations
    .org = non-profit/ other organizations
    .gov = government agencies
    .net = network resources

Objectivity

  • Are biases clearly stated?
  • Are any political/ ideological agenda hidden to disquise its purpose?
  • Do they use a misleading name or other means to do this?
Books Articles Websites
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the book for general readers? Students? Researchers?
  • Who is the intended audience?  Is the article in a publication that is written for general readers?  students? researchers?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the web site written for children? general readers? researchers?
  • Why was the book written?  To inform?  persuade? teach?  entertain?
  • Why was the article written?  To inform?  persuade? teach?  entertain?
  • Why was the web site created?  To inform?  persuade? teach?  entertain? just for fun?
  • Is there a preface or introduction to identify objectives?
  • What are the affiliations of the author?
  • What are the affiliations of the author?

Currency

How up-to-date is the information?

Books Articles Websites
  • What is the copyright date (located on the title page)?
  • What is the date of the article?
  • Are the dates listed?
  • Is the information up-to-date, out-of-date, or does the information never go out-of-date?
  • How current are the sources listed in the bibliography (dates)?
  • When was the web site first created?
  • How current are the sources listed in the bibliography (dates)?
  • When was the last time that the web site was revised?
  • Are the links still viable?  Do any linked sites identified still exist?


Coverage

What is the focus of the work?

Books Articles Websites
  • Is there a table of contents? an index?
  • What are the affiliations of the author?
  • Are there clear headings to indicate an outline to determine what aspects of the topic are covered?
  • Is the book organized logically and/or in a manner which makes it easy to understand?
  • Is there an abstract?

  • Is there a Table of Contents? an Index? an Abstract?
  • Are there appendices to supplement the main text?
  • Does the article cover the topic comprehensively, partially, or is it an overview?  Is it primary, secondary, or tertiary information?
  • Is navigation within the web site clear?
  • Does the article cover the topic comprehensively, partially, or is it an overview?  Is it primary, secondary, or tertiary information?


Relevancy

Does the resource actually cover the topic you are researching?

Books    Articles Websites
  • Does the book support or refute an argument
  • Does the article support or refute an argument?
  • Does the web site support or refute an argument?
  • Does the book give examples?  survey results? research findings? case studies?
  • Does the article give examples?  survey results? research findings? case studies?
  • Does the web site give examples?  survey results? research findings? case studies? link to other useful and recommended sites?
  • Is it really research? or just commentary?
  • Is it really research? or just commentary?
  • Is it really research? or just commentary?
  • Does it cover the topic as well as other types of sources (books, articles, etc.)?
UA-89927696-1