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Key skills: making a difference
Key skills: making a difference

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4.3.1 Judging the quality of information

Judging the quality of information is not the same as a description of it, nor is it the same as simply agreeing or disagreeing with it, and an evaluation of information should not include personal attacks. It does require you to assess the information in terms of its strengths and weaknesses and give adequate reasons to support your assessment. You may need to check facts, research other sources and question further.

There are vast amounts of information available today and magazines, books and papers all publish articles ranging from the highly technical through to advertising copy. And no one can ignore the increasing sources of information on the Internet.

To help evaluate information on the Internet Jan Alexander and Marsha Tate at Widener University suggest using the traditional criteria we apply to print information. These criteria include:

AccuracyIs the information reliable and free from errors? When in doubt check information against other resources.
AuthorityWho is the author, and is he/she qualified to write about the topic? If you can't find the author's name or credentials, check to see if there is a link to the author's web page or to a sponsoring organisation or publisher. A page's domain name (e.g., edu, gov, com) can sometimes be a clue.
ObjectivityIs there evidence of bias or overt attempts to persuade? Who is the audience and what is the purpose of the page? Is the information provided by an organisation or company that may have an agenda? Alexander and Tate recommend using the same critical eye we use to evaluate infomercials and try advertisements.
CurrencyHow up to date is this information? Are links from the page outdated? One place to start is to see if the page includes information about when it was first written and last modified.
CoverageHow comprehensive is the information provided and what is its value compared to other resources? What is the quality of pages linked to from the site? When evaluating a page's coverage, keep in mind that you many reach a web page that is taken out of context. Always try to go to the home page for the site to get an idea of what information is provided.

The above criteria are not fail-safe, but they are a good starting point for evaluating information on the Web.

(Source: Widener University, checklist for an information web page)

The above criteria also form a useful checklist for evaluating other forms of information, too. The best resources offer objectivity, timeliness, accuracy and authority. More importantly, readers can verify information provided by trustworthy sources.

Time out

Adopt a ‘critical eye’ for judging the quality and reliability of information you use from different sources. Look at different sources, check references and ‘seek’ opinions. Keep up-to-date records of sources of information.