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Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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5 Time for reflection

I think now is a good time to look back at all the things I’ve found out about stinging nettles and to reflect on both the process and reliability of the sources. In this video I take you through the search steps and the sources of information that I used, which gives you a chance to reflect on the choice of sources. Before choosing a source of information, it is important to subject it to critical analysis. The quality of information obtained can vary greatly from one source to another, depending on their credibility.

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Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine
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In general, though, any source of information should be evaluated in terms of its presentation (e.g. how well it is presented and is accessible), its relevance to the research being undertaken, its objectivity, its method of data collection, its provenance and its timeliness. The acronym used by The Open University to summarise these criteria is PROMPT (defined below) and you can visit The Open University’s Library Services [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] where you can find out more about evaluating sources of information.

The PROMPT criteria

  • Presentation: poor presentation and inappropriate or confusing use of language can hinder your use of content. Try not to let poor presentation stop you from using what might otherwise be good quality, relevant information.
  • Relevance: this is not a property of the information itself, but rather of its relationship to the need you have identified. Consider geography, level and the emphasis of the content.
  • Objectivity: all information is presented from a position of interest, although this may not be intentional. You need to be aware of possible bias in what you read, and to take account of this when you interpret the information.
  • Method (research reports only): do not assume that because a research report has been accepted for publication, it is error free. You need to assess the accuracy of information produced as a result of using particular methods.
  • Provenance: The ‘credentials’ of a piece of information support its status and perceived value. It is important to be able to identify the author, sponsoring body or source of your information.
  • Timeliness: this is an aspect of relevance. You need to be aware of the date of production or publication, and assess whether this has been superseded, or is still useful to your needs.

Activity 3 How reliable is the source information?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Look back at a source of information, either one given in the activities for this week, or one that you have found while doing your own research. Write down some reasons you think it is, or isn’t, a useful source of information.

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Use Google Scholar to look for scientific articles where you know the provenance is likely to be credible. You could look at the methods section to find out how a study has been carried out to check they have followed a sensible protocol. Always remember to look at the relevance and timeliness of what you find. For example, if you are interested in an oak tree you have spotted in London, would it be useful to know the evolution of oak trees in Africa?