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MIO: Reference Librarian

Evaluate Information

Before you decide on using a document to support your research paper you need to take a critical look at the information it contains.

It’s published, so I can use it.

Not necessarily so. If it’s published by a legitimate publisher (as are the books and magazines in the library) or if it appears in one of the library’s databases, the information is most likely reliable. But it might not be a good source because of its focus, publication date, or type (for example, your instructor wants you to use a scholarly journal and not a popular magazine).

It came up on the first page of results when I searched the database.

Be careful.  Many databases put their results in order by date. What comes up first are the most recent articles. They may not be the ones that are best for your research. Look carefully at the top of the list to determine the method of sorting – you can always change it to sort by relevancy.

I did a search on Google, and it was one of the first sites.

Google has a complicated method of determining which sites appear at the top of the results page. There are no humans involved in selecting these sites. You need to be very critical when determining the quality of a web document.

This section will show you how to:

  • Decide whether the information is pertinent or relevant to your paper
  • Determine the quality of information presented in the document


This section was in part inspired by the Web guide Evaluating Sources, produced by Mary Northrup at Maple Woods Library, Metropolitan Community College.