Critically appraising a book, journal article or document.

CRITICALLY APPRAISING THE BOOK, ARTICLE, OR DOCUMENT

Evaluating a published source often begins with a critical look at the bibliographic citation--the representation of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material that appears in a catalog, bibliography, or database.

What can you deduce about the of the source through this preliminary examination?  

 

INITIAL APPRAISAL

A. Author

  1. What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation (where he or she works), educational background, past writings, or experience? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? You can use the biographical information located in the publication itself to help determine the author's affiliation and credentials.
  2. Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.
  3. Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization?

B. Date of Publication

When was the source published? Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. On the other hand, topics in the arts and humanities often require material that was written many years ago.

C. Edition or Revision

Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with its intended reader's needs. Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable.

D. Publisher

Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.

E. Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

DEEP APPAISAL (i.e. CONTENT ANALYSIS)

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine actual source. Read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic. Reading the article abstract and scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. The presence and quality of a bibliography at the end of the article may reflect the care with which the authors have prepared their work.

A. Intended Audience

What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience? Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

B. Objective Reasoning

  1. Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.
  2. Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic? The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize his or her ideas.
  3. Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?

C. Coverage

Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.

D. Writing Style

Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?

E. Evaluative Reviews

  1. Book reviews written by academic are extremely useful- the librarian can help you find them.  Is the review positive? Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field? Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.
  2. Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among the critics? 

Adapted for OCAC from a document originally written by Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Ithaca, NY, USA following provisions of this Creative Commons Commons Deed, version 4.0: