As you start to locate resources for your assignment or dissertation you need to begin to think about what you’re finding. Not every webpage, or book for that matter, is equal and you will need to critically evaluate what is relevant and appropriate. Things to consider:
- What kind of resource is it?
- You may need an overview of a broad subject in which case a book might be most helpful; or you might need an in depth, up-to-date piece of research on a very narrow topic so a conference paper may be more useful. Your lecturers may be expecting to you use scholarly information and not Wikipedia articles or general web pages.
- Where have you found the resource?
- Is it a journal or a database which the University has paid to access? Or is it a collection of papers of unknown origins? Can you trust the source? Which leads to:
- Who has produced the resource?
- What are the credentials of the author? Is it a website with an axe to grind? Is it a peer reviewed article in a scholarly journal? Is it a news source with a particular bias? Is it a self-published book which no one has edited? Can you assess the author or publisher’s objectivity? Who is their audience – the academic community, public interest, schools?
- Why are you using this?
- Is it general background reading to extend your knowledge, or does it contain a piece of information or a quote that you want to reference to support your argument? It can be useful to consider balance in your reference list – do you have sufficient academic references compared to, say, web pages? Is it actually relevant to your dissertation or assignment?
- When was the resource published?
- Is the information out of date? Have you looked for the most recent research? (Not that age should necessarily be a barrier, it will depend on subject area or perhaps a need to refer to a classic original paper). If it’s a website, does it look as if it’s still active and do the links still work?
Evaluating Internet Resources looks in more detail at assessing resources found on the web.
The ‘what’ above, can also be very helpful when you start referencing so that you know what pages to use on Referencing@Portsmouth.
Next: Referencing your sources