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Route 3: Evaluating Information

Page history last edited by Elaine Shallcross 10 years, 11 months ago



learning outcome: ability to compare and evaluate information



Route 3 is a stage in the search process when you need to evaluate the quality, relevancy and currency of the information you have found.

Start at the top and work down the three InfoPaths that make up Route 3...



Available from this page is a collection of resources designed to help you with this stage. Feel free to look at them, download them and print them off - whatever suits you best.


Route 3A: Evaluate the quality, relevancy and currency of the information you have found

What is quality information?

The following information was extracted from the ACHIEVE programme available from your student portal:


How do you know if the information you have found is good enough to refer to in your work? Which should you discard and which can you use?

Look at the words that describe information in the table below and divide them into two categories - good and bad descriptors.


Up-to-date Confused
Badly written
Unreliable Inappropriate


Relevant Out-of-date
Objective Accurate
Appropriate Well written
Cursory Complicated


You'll probably find that some descriptors are difficult to categorise. For instance, how do you categorise 'complicated'? Complicated information can be both good and bad, depending on your information need. 'Subjective' and 'dated' information could be very relevant to students studying history, but completely unsuitable for science students.


It's important to critically appraise whether a piece of information is suitable for purpose. Use a mnemonic - PROMPT - as a guide to critically appraise your information:


P resentation   is the information presented in a clear and readable way?
is the information appropriate and relevant to the purpose in hand?
is the content balanced or is there some bias?
how was the information gathered together?
who or what originated the information and are they reliable sources?
is the information up-to-date and does it matter in the context of your search topic?


Let's look at PROMPT more closely:



  • Don't be fooled into thinking that all information presented well is of good quality.
  • Look past the obvious and consider if information that looks unimportant is actually central to your topic.
  • When evaluating a website consider who produced the pages and, in particular, look for when, where and with what authority they were produced.

This will take time and patience but is essential to ensure that you are using good quality information.



It is important that you select information relevant to your assignment and this is determined by the requirements of the assignment. After first selecting good quality information you must next decide which of it is actually irrelevant to your search:

  • Is the level of information too specialised or too basic?
  • Does it focus sufficiently on the specific concept(s) of your assignment?
  • If your assignment has a geographic element, does the information you have found relate to the particular area you are interested in?

Be very clear about what your information needs are and have a search strategy for finding them [see Route 1: Planning a Search for more details].


  • ‘Good’ information can be described as ‘balanced’.
  • An objective approach to presenting information is also considered to be advantageous, but you should take into account that all information presents a point of view, so objectivity may not always be a realistic achievement.
  • It is up to you, as reader, to develop a critical awareness as you interpret the information presented. Materials dealing with controversial subjects (e.g. genetically modified food or abortion) are from a certain viewpoint and are generally biased, not objective – it’s up to you to judge whether the information is presented with or without bias – be careful, it’s not always obvious.
  • Remember too that your judgement may be influenced by YOUR beliefs.
  • Look out for: unsubstantiated theories and opinions that are presented as facts; language that is emotionally charged or vague; research that is sponsored by industry (who may have a vested interest) and may make interpretation of research selective.


  • The research method described in articles or journals can be considered an important factor in assessing the reliability of materials. This can be difficult since, as a student, you may not have the specialist knowledge of the subject content.
  • Research methods differ across disciplines – methods used in scientific research and those used in historical or biographical research differ significantly. However, you don’t need to be an expert to ask basic questions, the main points to think about are:

Is it clear how the research was carried out?

Were the methods appropriate?

Is the sample size large enough, what control groups were used, how was the questionnaire designed?

  • NOTE: Beware, you might believe that, since research has been published, it is trustworthy. This is not always the case.


Provenance is the origin or source of something (and who produced it).

  • The provenance of information may give you an indication of whether it can be considered trustworthy, so identifying the author or what organisation it originate from is important. This can be a contentious way of deciding whether information is to be relied upon; after all, shouldn’t information be judged on its own merit?
  • Consider the author: are they an expert in the subject? Have they previously published papers or books? Do they have a particular perspective on the subject matter and are their views considered to be controversial?
  • Consider the sponsoring organisation: is it a commercial company? A voluntary organisation? A statutory body or a research organisation? Are there contact details for verification of information or if you want to find out more?
  • Consider how it was produced: anyone can post on the internet, can you trust it? Journals usually have editors or an editorial board, ensuring more control over published materials. Note that academic print journals are generally peer reviewed by two other academics before a decision is made for publication, this is even better. Electronic based journals don’t always have a peer review procedure; think about the consequences of using this kind of material.

A summary of what may be important considerations:

  • Authors. Who do they work for and what have they published previously?
  • Organisations. Which ones are involved? Who funds them?
  • Publications. Who is the editor? It is peer reviewed?


  • Date of publication is important when it comes to its quality, although not all good information has to be current.
  • Look at the following words and try to decide which of them are timeless or whether the information within them needs to be as up-to-date as possible:


Road map
News item
Press release
Review of research
Book of poetry
Government circular
Scientific research article
Population statistics
Technical manual
News website


Not so easy, was it?


  • It can depend on what you need the information for – an out of date road map may be useful to an historian, but not so good if you want to get around on the roads today?
  • Does the information clearly convey when the information was produced?
  • Does the date matter to my requirements?
  • Has the information been superseded?

There is a checklist available here to help you evaluate the quality and relevance of your information.


Route 3B: Evaluate web-based resources

Go to a free online tutorial - Internet Detective - available here which offers practical advice on evaluating the quality of websites. Developed by the Universities of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan.


Route 3C: Refine your search

  • Didn’t find what you needed on the first search? Does that mean that you can assume there is nothing on your topic? Well, no. Perhaps your search strategy is wrong.
  • You never get a perfect search first time so you need to go back and repeat the search.
    • Refine by going back to ‘Executing your search’ and repeat the exercise.
    • Use different key words (check the spelling)
    • Consider using alternative words, for example, ‘Scottish’ or ‘Scotland’, ‘car’ or ‘vehicle’.
    • Add more limits, such as dates, to reduce the amount of information you find.
    • Consider trying a different database or search tool – Primo can help you choose different databases.
  • Still not found what you need?
    • Our advice is to keep refining your search – keep trying different search tools or databases.
    • Ask library staff for help!




Tutorial: Internet Detective - Wise Up to the Web at http://www.vtstutorials.ac.uk/detective/ 


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