Evaluating Books, 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.

Why use e-Books and Books?


Advantages: Scholarly books contain authoritative information and this can include comprehensive accounts of research or scholarship, historical data, overviews, experts' views on themes/topics.


Disadvantages: Because it can take years, in some instances, to write and publish books, they are not always the best sources for current topic.


Use an e-book or book when you require background information and related research on a topic, when you want to add depth to a research topic or put your topic in context with other important issues.


Before you use an e-book or book for your research, ask yourself questions about its:

  • authority (author/editor and publisher credentials)
  • content (accurate, relevant, up-to-date)

Check the book's author/editor and publisher

Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Find information about the credibility of the author by checking biography details on the book's jacket or within the book itself.
  • Do some extra checking for education, experience, and affiliations.
    • If the affiliation is a company, does the author work in the area that he or she is writing about? That indicates professional experience.
    • If the author works at a research institute or university, check the author profile from that institution to see what his or her experience and expertise are.
Has the author written other publications?
  • Use Library Search, Library databases and internet search engines to check for other publications written by the same author.
  • See if the author has an online profile page listing his or her publications.
What are the publisher's credentials?
  • You can find information about a publisher by searching for the publisher's web site and looking for links that say "About Us" or something similar.
  • Books published by professional or trade associations, institutes, research centers, and reputable commercial publishers are usually trustworthy.
  • University presses publish books by academics and experts, so the terms "university" or "press" in a publisher name suggest a very reliable source.
  • Vanity presses allow authors to pay to have their work published and are considered much less reliable.

Check the book's content

Is the information current and up-to-date? Does it need to be?
  • Have you been asked to find sources from a specific date range, e.g. in the last 5 years?
  • How old is the information? Check the publication date and the dates of the references used in the book's bibliography. (It can take up to two years for a book to be published.)
  • Is it the latest edition? Or is it a reprint of an older book without revisions?
Does the content answer part of your research question?
  • Do the subject headings in the Library Search or Database record match your topic?
  • Read the blurb on the back of the book, or the description in the Library Search or Database record to see if it covers your topic.
  • Browse the Table of Contents and Index. Is the entire book devoted to your topic? Is there a whole chapter? Or just a paragraph or two?
  • Read the relevant sections.
    • Do they give you the information you need to answer your question?
    • If you need information about a specific country or area, is it the focus of the text?
Who is the intended audience for the book?
  • Look at the language and layout.
    • Is this book written for the general public or an academic audience?
    • What age group is it written for?
What sources did the author use?
  • Look for footnotes or a bibliography. This list shows you what kind of sources the author used to write the book.
Is there bias?
  • Scan the preface or the introduction. The author will often tell you why the book was written and what perspective or bias he or she brings to the topic.
  • Read the relevant sections of the text.
    • Is there emotional language?
    • Did you find opposing or one-sided viewpoints?
    • Can you detect prejudice, stereotypes, deception, or manipulation?
    • What cultural points of view might be present?


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

Test yourself - evaluating books