What this handout is about

This handout will talk about strategies to evaluate an additional printed sources—books, journal articles, magazines, etc.—based on 3 criteria: objectivity, authority, and also applicability come your certain assignment. Published sources, whether primary or secondary, carry out the evidence for most of the academic essays you will write in college. Non-print sources, such together webpages, works of arts (performance and fine), and also interviews often provide far-ranging source material for analysis but are not spanned in this handout.

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At some point in her college career, you will be asked to create a research study paper. While you may associate research files with background or political science classes, the examine of most disciplines involves the collection and interpretation the data v the will of making and supporting one argument. To perform this, you should use some printed texts, whether they room primary records or second sources the analyze main sources.

If you have actually never created a research record at the college level, the process may show up daunting. The very first step, that course, is to develop a topic the investigates a difficulty important to your discipline. Because that this, talk to your instructor or the library reference staff and check out our handouts on expertise assignments, creating thesis statements, and making disagreements in academic writing.

So girlfriend come up with a good idea and also head to the library to start research. Historicsweetsballroom.com’s Davis Library includes over 5 million books and also journals. Which ones are valuable to her study? What if the info they current is false, outdated, or biased come the allude of inaccuracy? How can you tell? This handout will assist answer this questions.

Researchers method an unfamiliar source and ask questions of it v the intentionally of discovering hints that will certainly tell lock if they have the right to trust the resource and if the can add anything come the argument. The actions that room outlined below may appear drawn-out and perfhistoricsweetsballroom.comtory come some; each step is outlined in detail so that both novice and progressed researchers deserve to benefit. This will help you strategy your sources more carefully and critically.

Primary and an additional sources

This handout will focus on just how to evaluate secondary sources, but the critical skills girlfriend learn right here will aid in evaluating primary resources too. Prior to we can get to an additional sources, we need to differentiate primary from secondary sources. Main sources come in assorted shapes and sizes, and often you have to do a little bit that research about the source to make certain you have correctly established it.

In a nutshell, a primary resource was developed at the very same time that the events explained in the source took place. Sound easy? In most instances it is. Right here are part examples and problem areas:

Diaries and letters composed by people who were participants in the actions they explain are easy to classify as main sources, but what about memoirs or autobiographies? These are usually composed well after ~ the occasions took place and often will tell you an ext about the period in which they were created than about the period they describe.

What about newspapers? The author of an article presents an interpretation, yet if the short article reports current events, it is primary. If the article reports past events, the is secondary. Store in mind that an article around a past occasion can present an important primary evidence concerning the author’s context.

What about fiction? If you space studying the novel or city for its very own sake, it is a main source. If you space using the novel or poem as evidence—a historic novel, for example—it is a second source. In the very same vein, a 19th-century history textbook deserve to be taken into consideration a primary resource if you space studying exactly how the work-related was affected by the period in which it was created or how it fits into a continuum of historical evaluation (that is called historiography).

Check the end this table to assist differentiate main and an additional sources.

The storm by wilhelm ShakespeareAn short article that analyzes the motif of the ‘savage other’ in The Tempest.
The Diary of ann FrankA book about the Holocaust
The declaration of IndependenceA biography of thomas Jefferson
Population statistics top top Ethiopia from The world FactbookAn write-up titled “The affect of population growth on child mortality in Ethiopia.”

Secondary resources will notify most the your composing in college. You will regularly be request to study your subject using primary sources, but second sources will tell you which primary sources you have to use and also will aid you analyze those main sources. To usage them well, however, you should think critically about them.

There are two parts of a source that you need to analyze: the text itself and the dispute within the text.

Evaluating the text

You evaluate a text to identify the objectivity of the author and the credibility the the work. Execute not assume that your single motive or goal is to eliminate sources. If this may be a an effect of her analysis, her goal must be to understand the context of the work so you can assess exactly how it deserve to inform your argument. To execute this, you have to analyze the text according to 3 criteria: the author, the publisher, and also the day of publication.


Remember back at the start of this handout I composed that critically evaluating sources is all about asking questions? Well, right here is whereby you show off that skill. The following time you pick up a publication in the library, look at the author’s name. Have actually you heard of her? carry out you recognize if that is cited in other books on the subject? has your instructor pointed out the author’s name? Is she affiliated v a university (which might or might not add to her authority)? walk the writer acknowledge an business affiliation? The acknowledgements and preface are great places to obtain the answer to many of these questions.


Date that Publication


After analyzing the text, you may uncover some bias. The does not mean you need to discard it. Possibly the author thanks one anti-homosexual religious organization for funding his research on same-sex marriages. You might be tempted come toss the publication aside because you feel that a biased work will not provide the ‘facts.’ but you may be missing out on some good evidence. No second work is going to offer you the ‘facts.’ secondary sources carry out interpretations of main data. Every interpretation is influenced by the author’s context. Uncover out where the writer is coming from and also use the proof accordingly. Because that example, the book around same-sex marriages funded by the southerly Baptist Convention may administer a clear presentation of the conservative side of the issue. Paired through a book that gives a for free interpretation, the conservative publication may provide beneficial information around the miscellaneous positions within the discussion.

Evaluating an argument

Analyzing the author, publisher, and also age of the text offers a an excellent place to begin your analysis. You should not protect against there, however. You have to move beyond the appraisal the the text and begin to analysis the content. To do this, you have the right to use the same technique of questioning questions and searching for responses.


Is the job-related applicable to her study? The first place come look for answers is the table of contents. A book can have a an excellent title however then have the right to be full of tangential concepts or take method that simply might not add to your study. The next ar to inspect out is the index. The table of contents is a wonderful resource for researchers. You can use the to easily jump to details passages if her topic is well defined. Much more often, you’ll scan the index to acquire a feel for the authority and also scope of the text. Often you can learn many of what a book can tell friend by reading the preface and also the introduction and scanning the table of contents and index.


Analyzing the dispute gets to the love of a crucial approach to her sources. While this task may seem complicated at first, right here are part tips and also techniques you can learn to make it a many easier:

Is the info supported through evidence? take it a good look at the footnotes or endnotes. What kinds of sources did the author use? walk the bibliography cite the important books in the field?What is the significant claim or thesis of the publication or article? Is it clean what the author is trying come prove?What room the primary presumptions on which the author bases the argument’s key claim? do you agree v those assumptions? Is the author taking too much liberty in make those assumptions?Check out the publication Review index in the recommendation section of the library. Review what various other scholars have actually written about this book. Space the reviews generally positive? perform they think about the book useful or necessary to the field? This is not thought about cheating. ~ above the contrary, it will permit you to check out the book with her eyes open, so come speak.


An evaluation of the audience deserve to tell friend a lot around how much authority a book or short article can claim. Many of what friend historicsweetsballroom.comovered in your analysis of the message will notify your referee of the to plan audience. You can discover out an ext by feather at how the book is written and also what form of style it is written in. Is the work complete of technological terms or graphs? then the audience may be academic. Is the language very an easy with many pictures? then the audience may be a younger crowd, or the book may be intended because that light reading. If you are reading a newspaper or magazine, look at the advertisements. That does the publisher hope will read the source? An advertisement for Lexus automobiles or Johnny walker Red scotch in “Newsweek” may show a wealthy, education (and perhaps male) audience. An advertisement in “People” for Tommy Hilfiger or Pepsi may indicate a different audience.


The ton of a book is exactly how the writer represents himself or herself through language. Strong and impassioned language may indicate to you that the writer is also emotionally linked to the occupational to provide an target analysis. Most academic authors try to show up impartial in their composing by constantly writing in the third person and staying far from invited adjectives. Here are some inquiries you have the right to ask about the author’s tone:

Does the author’s language seem impartial to you? are wild cases made? Is a lot of emotional language used?Does the author remain focused on the argument? Does the or she run from allude to suggest without completing any kind of thoughts?Does the author seem objective? walk the information appear to it is in propaganda come you? Is a particular agenda put forth v the choice of data or the manipulation of evidence? Remember, finding a predisposition does no necessarily average you need to discard the book. Take it in stride and use that accordingly.


Answers to all the questions posed over will help you recognize whether you deserve to accept a source as an authority. Have the right to you trust it? What have the right to you trust about it? there is no easy means to answer the question, however by very closely approaching both the text and also the dispute you have the right to feel an ext confident about the source.

Following the trail

It may happen that friend come up with a topic and also go come the library to discover sources. You sit down through ten books that girlfriend gleaned indigenous a keyword search on the library’s digital catalog. You put all ten publications through the an important analysis steps outlined above, and also only one fits all your criteria. What carry out you carry out now? Go ago to the library catalog? browser the shelves near where you uncovered the an initial ten? Those methods might work, yet a quicker way is to monitor the trace of resources in the one book you have chose to use. Look in ~ the footnotes and also bibliography. Note titles that the writer relies on or describes as pillars that the discipline. Then look increase those publication or articles in the library catalog and begin the vital analysis procedure all over again. This time, however, you understand what one writer thinks around the book, for this reason it currently has achieved a level of government or importance. Adhering to the trail from one publication or article to others can lead to an knowledge of the entire structure of the literary works on a particular topic.

Apply what you’ve learned

Now that you understand the vital terms and also what questions to ask, put your newfound knowledge to the test. What inquiries would girlfriend ask the this handout?

Is the writer an authority?Is the author biased?Can I learn anything indigenous this handout?

How would you go about finding the end the answers to these questions? for the first question, go to the historicsweetsballroom.com Writing center Homepage. Over there you will uncover out who funds the creating Center and who functions there. The answer come the 2nd question is yes, i do have actually biases, although i am probably not aware of all of them. Execute they affect what ns write? that course. Is the necessarily bad? Of course not. The answer come the 3rd question is more difficult. Over there is no table of contents due to the fact that this is a short work, yet the bold ar breaks and bulleted lists should aid you scan the paper for applicability. Everyone approaches a learning case from a various angle, and also what is beneficial to one person could not be for the next. That is an evaluate you should make from your own perspective.

Don’t forget to follow the trail of this handout to proceed thinking around these ideas: examine out the perform below.

Works consulted

We consulted these functions while composing this handout. This is not a an extensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and also we encourage you to perform your own research come find additional publications. Please carry out not use this list together a model for the style of your own reference list, together it might not complement the citation format you room using. Because that guidance on formatting citations, please check out the historicsweetsballroom.com Libraries quote tutorial. Us revise these advice periodically and welcome feedback. Special thanks to Emily Jackson-Sanborn of duke University’s Perkins Library referral Department for this handout’s web references.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The handmade of Research, fourth ed. Chicago: college of Chicago Press.

Bowling eco-friendly State University. 2020. “Library Basics: examining Print Sources.” university Libraries. Last updated July 8, 2020. Https://libguides.bgsu.edu/c.php?g=227153&p=1505673.

California Polytechnic State university Robert E. Kennedy Library. N.d. “Evaluating the Credibility of details Sources.” http://lib.calpoly.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Evaluating-Credibility-Fall-2017.pdf.

Ede, Lisa. 2004. Work in Progress: A overview to academic Writing and Revising, 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

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Ormondroyd, Joan. 2011. “Critically analyzing Information Sources.” Olin & Uris Libraries. Cornell University. Critical updated April 5, 2011. Https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/content/critically-analyzing-information-sources.

This work is licensed under a creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.You might reproduce it because that non-commercial usage if you usage the entire handout and also attribute the source: The creating Center, college of north Carolina in ~ Chapel Hill