Determining the relevance of information

The relevance or pertinence of a document depends on your specific research needs. What is relevant to one person’s work may not be relevant to someone else’s.

You are the best person to judge that, so look at your search results with a critical eye by asking yourself the following questions.

1. Is the information written at my level of understanding?

  • Who is it written for? A graduate student or a high school student?

2. Is the content relevant to my topic?

  • Is there a summary of abstract of the document? Does it mention the type of information that you’re looking for?
  • Is there a table of contents or index that contains subjects that touch on my topic?
  • Do my search results include descriptors or subject terms, and if so, are they relevant to my topic?
  • Does the website’s index or navigation bar include topics of interest to me?

3. Does the document contain data that would be useful for my research?

  • Are there charts, tables, images, graphs, etc.?
  • If there are, pay attention to information like dates and geographical areas to determine if the data is relevant to your research.

4. Is this the type of document required for my assignment?

  • Do I need a reliable source of factual information?
  • Does my assignment require me to analyze someone else’s opinion?
  • Have I been asked to discuss various viewpoints on a topic?

For factual information, the document should come from experts in the field or reliable organizations (ex:  government or university departments). If it’s a critical analysis of an author’s opinion that you need, the reliability of the facts isn’t as important and could even be commented on in your review.

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