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Evaluating Books and Articles   Tags: advanced research, citation, reference  

How to use citation information to make informed judgements about sources.
Last Updated: Jan 5, 2015 URL: Print Guide
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Some Hints on Evaluating Books and Articles

Some of the information required to properly cite a source is also some of the information that will help you begin evaluating a source. For books this includes:

  • Author: One, two or more? Is the person an author, editor, or both? Have you seen this name before at all? If the work is a collection, encyclopedia, or is in some other way made up of different parts, are authors listed for the parts? Is there an author listed at all?

  • Title: Is there a title (for encyclopedia articles, the title may be the entry word)? Does the title tell you anything important about the work? Does it reflect the content?

  • Publisher: Is this a publishing name you've heard of before? Where is the publisher located? Is it a university press, commercial press, or other?

  • Date: When was the work published? How might the date of publication be reflected in the content? Is the work current enough for your purposes?

  • Edition: Has this work been through more than one edition?

  • Although not required for citation, to evaluate a source you should also think about

    • Purpose: Is the purpose of the work clearly stated? Does the work live up to the stated purpose?

    • Scope: How much information does the work claim to cover? Is that reasonable? Does the work actually cover what it claims to?

    • Audience: Is this a general or an academic work? Is it written for a specific discipline or interdisciplinary in nature?

    • Format and Organization: Does the arrangement make sense? Are there prefaces, introductions, chapters headings, indexes, and suchlike which help you use the work? Are there keys for any abbreviations?

Further information for articles:

  • Title of journal: Is this a title you've heard of before? Is the journal affiliated with a particular organization or academic institution?

  • Volume and date: How long has this journal been in publication?

  • Pages: Has the author given enough or too much space to the topic?

As you move on, some other things to consider might be the authority and reputation of the author and publisher/journal. You don't have to guess at this. You can ask your professor. You might also consider consulting one or more of the following:

Book Review Digest. 1905-
A source for reviews of and responses to specific books. Lists book reviews in many popular periodicals and gives representative excerpts.
Reference Indexes: 1905-1984

Book Review Index.
Like Book Review Digest, but includes significantly more titles. Check the volumes for the year the book was published and several years following.
Reference Indexes

Contemporary Authors. Available through the Literature Resource Center
Provides personal data, career highlights, lists of writings, and works in progress on contemporary authors. The individuals included range from newspaper and television reporters to editors and columnists to novelists and screenwriters.

Literary Market Place: LMP.
Provides information on book publishers, including the publisher's field and the number of titles in print.
Ref. PN161 .L5

Magazines for Libraries.
Lists selected magazines "most useful for the average elementary or secondary school, public, academic, or special library" and gives detailed information on each title, including indexing and audience.
Ref. [q.] Z6941 .M23

"A bibliographic database providing detailed, comprehensive, and authoritative information on serials published throughout the world." Includes reviews for many of the titles listed, some from Magazines for Libraries.

Who's Who
An online version of Who's Who in America as well as several other versions, including Who’s Who in American Education and Who’s Who in the World

The Writer's Market.
Intended for authors trying to find a publisher. Includes book publishers and magazine titles with comments by editors.
Ref. PN161 .W83

All these sources may be useful in determining the bias and reliability of sources you may encounter in your research.

And as always, if you need help, ask a Reference Librarian.

Reference & Instruction Librarian

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