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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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6.2.1 Evaluating the ‘Provenance’, ‘Relevance’ and ‘Objectivity’ of information

You will now carry out three activities to evaluate the first three parts of the PROMPT criteria: provenance, relevance and objectivity.

Activity 8 Evaluating the ‘Provenance’ of information

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Think about each of the following sources of information, and note down your view on their credibility. How would you go about determining this?

  • A blog dedicated to human rights law, written by a member of Parliament.
  • A wiki about the impact of climate change in developing countries, with many contributors.
  • A research report into genetic variation in apes and humans by the Wellcome Trust.


The blog. Although the blog may provide objective and authoritative information about human rights law, you would need to check the credentials of the blogger. Do they have any qualifications to write about law? Are they presenting their views from a particular political view point?

The wiki. Wikis can be useful ways for experts to discuss their views. However, you would need to check the credentials of the contributors and also how the wiki is set up. Can anyone contribute or is membership restricted? Are posts checked for accuracy?

The research report. The information is very likely to be credible as it was published by an acknowledged authority in biomedical sciences.

Activity 9 Evaluating the ‘Relevance’ of information

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Tim is studying The Tempest by William Shakespeare at Master’s level and would like some background information on the play. Some of the websites he finds are listed below. Make some notes on which of these might be most relevant, and what factors he should consider when selecting from them. Before starting the activity below, we suggest you either print these instructions or open the links in a new tab or window.

  • Key Stage 3 Bitesize summary of The Tempest [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] on the BBC website.
  • Online article in Postgraduate English published by Durham University called ‘Anxious Memories in The Tempest’.
  • An entry in Wikipedia about The Tempest.
  • A website that includes a summary of the play and links to essays other students have written. It has links to other plays by Shakespeare and allows the text of all of his works to be searched.


The BBC KS3 Bitesize website. The website provides a good summary of the book, but it is very basic and so probably not appropriate for postgraduate level study.

The online article. The article is aimed at the right level, but is very detailed and specific to a particular aspect of the play – although it may contain some useful information, its focus is probably too narrow.

The Wikipedia entry. The entry seems on first impression to be close to what Tim is looking for – it offers information about the play, the historical setting and links to events and people of the period. However, caution is advised as the information needs to be checked – although it is relevant and seems well presented, there is little clue as to its objectivity or provenance.

The website. This looks interesting, although the summary is basic. The option to access and search Shakespeare’s other works might be useful if Tim wants to explore how the same themes occur across plays. However, Tim also needs to be careful of the links offered on the site which go to other sites containing pre-written essays and projects about The Tempest. Using these works in his own assignments could constitute plagiarism, may also breach copyright, and would lead to disciplinary action being taken that could see Tim being cautioned, or if severe, even dismissed from his study programme (we will explore issues related to academic integrity and copyright in Session 6).

Activity 10 Evaluating the ‘Objectivity’ of information

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Sophie is researching the future of food production, in the light of population and price increases. Consider the objectivity of the following items she has found.

  • A website dedicated to organic food production, which includes detailed information about efficient farming techniques.
  • Research papers on the website of a company selling genetically modified seeds.
  • An investigation by the United Nations into sustainable farming for the twenty-first century.


The website. Although the information may be thorough and objective, it may also include some bias since the website is dedicated to organic food production and so has an interest in promoting this method of farming.

Research papers. These papers may be objective, but their selection and inclusion on the website could potentially be biased since the website is financed by a company with a vested interest in a particular product.

The UN report. The report is likely to be objective and unbiased as it has been prepared by an organisation that should investigate all aspects of this issue and provide impartial conclusions.