Evaluating Books, Journals, Journal Articles and Websites

This guide will provide some tips for evaluating the books, articles and websites you find when researching for an assessment task.

Introduction

There are a number of questions you should ask about a book before using it as a research resource.

These questions focus on 2 areas:

  • authority (i.e. author/editor/publisher details)
  • content

Examples of book evaluations

Following are some examples of book evaluations:

Test yourself - evaluating books

Check the book's author/editor and publisher

Questions to ask:

  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • What work or educational experiences does the author have?
  • With which institution, organisation or company is the author affiliated?
  • Has the author written other publications?
  • Is the publisher well known?
  • Does the publisher stand to benefit from the research or argument presented in the book?

    Note:

    • Find information about the credibility of the author by checking biography details on the book's jacket or within the book itself or by using a search engine such as Google.
    • Use Library Search, Google Books and Amazon.com to check for other books written by the same author.
    • Use Library Search, Google Scholar and some Library databases to check for other publications written by the same author. 
    • University presses publish books by academics and experts, so the terms "university" or "press" in a publisher name suggest a very reliable source.
    • Books published by professional or trade associations, institutes, research centers, and reputable commercial publishers are usually trustworthy too. On the other hand, vanity presses allow authors to pay to have their work published and are considered much less reliable.
    • You can find information about a publisher by searching for the publisher's web site using a search engine like Google, and looking for links that say "About Us" or something similar.

    Check the book's content

    When evaluating the content of a book, you need to check if it is accurate and relevant

    Questions to ask:

    • Does the title indicate that the book is too specific or not specific enough? Is there a subtitle with more information?
    • What audience is the book directed towards?
    • Does the book address a topic from a certain timeframe and/or geographic area?
    • What sources did the author use?
    • Is the information current and up-to-date? Does it need to be?

     Note:

    • Multiple editions indicate the book is well regarded enough to have been through revisions, and has been updated.

    • Scan the preface or the introduction for a statement on why the book was written and what the author hopes to accomplish with it. Often the author will also let you know what perspective of bias he or she brings to the topic.

    • Look for references and/or a bibliography (may be called Works Cited, Sources, etc.). This list shows you what kind of sources the author used to write the book.

    • Browse the Table of Contents to see what the book covers. Look up one or two of your keywords in the index in the back of the book to see if they're there. Is the entire book devoted to your topic? Is there a whole chapter? Or just a paragraph or two?

    • Search library databases for book reviews to find out what others think of the author's book.

    • Look at the subject headings assigned to the book using a library catalogue or database record to help you check for content relevance.

    • When deciding if a book's content is current, check the publication date and the dates of the references used in the book's bibliography.

    • Exercise care when looking at a book's publication date. It can take up to two years for a book to be published. Be aware that some dates represent the year a book was republished (as a paperback, or after being out of print for some years).