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Source Evaluation: Books

You may begin to evaluate the appropriateness and scholarliness of a book at the online catalog screen. When you are deciding whether a book will meet your needs, some questions to ask are:


  • Is the author an expert in the field?

    Who is the author? What are the author's credentials (experience, education, position) for writing on this topic? Some articles and books contain brief notes on the author. Use the National Faculty Directory, Who's Who, or a directory or biography of a discipline. (To find a directory or a biography in the online catalog, type, for example, Finance--biographies or Finance--directories.)

    Does the author have a bias? Has the author made assumptions that color the way information is interpreted or presented?
  • Is the book a second or latest edition? Or, is the copyright date too old for the information to be useful?

    When was the book published? Many papers require current information, usually published within the last 5 years. In continually changing fields, such as medicine, sciences, and social sciences, currency may be especially important. However, an historical account of a topic may be desired.

    When a book has a second or later edition, it usually indicates that the first edition was well received. Publishers do not spend time and money for a second edition if the first one was criticized or had weak sales.
  • Is the publisher a reputable society such as the American Medical Association, or a university press such as Harvard University Press?

    Who is the publisher? Well-known publishers, both general (e.g., Wiley and Sons) and specialized (e.g., Springer-Verlag) are usually reliable. Society and university presses protect their reputations by ensuring that the information/facts in their books are accurate and valid.
  • Is the work documented?

    Good books cite the source of information, quotes, statistics, and so on. Use any bibliography included in the book to find more information on the same topic.
  • What methods were used to obtain data or conduct research?

    Did the writer do the research or rely on facts gathered by others? Were original sources used?
  • What audience does the book address?

    The more general, less educated the audience is the more simplified the material will be. Make sure the book is not children's or juvenile literature.

Viewing a book critically does NOT mean being negative. To critically THINK about the who, what, when, and how will help lead you choose good information.

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