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Information Retrieval Guide

Source Criticism

The evaluation of information is an essential part of information seeking process. You should always evaluate the information you’ve found with following guidelines:

Relevance. Is the information suitable for your subject?

  • Is the information connected to your subject and it corresponds to your needs?
  • Is the information targeted to a specific target group? Does this affect the relevancy of the information, and how?
  • Is it the right kind of information for your subject? Is the text a research, a review or something else?
  • Is it suitable to use as a reference?

Currency. Is the information up-to-date?

  • When was the information published?
  • Does your subject demand only the latest available information or has something essential been published earlier?
  • Has information been updated recently?

Source. Who has written or has produced the information?

  • Are the writer’s, producer’s or publisher’s credentials given in the information?
  • Is the author or organization well-known? Is the author known for publishing professional or research information?
  • Is the producer of the information reliable or valid to write about the subject?

Truthfulness. Can you trust the information?

  • Has the information been written objectively and is it grammatically right?
  • Has it been peer reviewed?
  • Is the provided information justified with other information? For example, references or earlier research.
  • Are you able to verify provided information with another source or based on your earlier information?

Difference between scholarly and popular source

You should strive to use scholarly literature as source when writing a thesis. Being able to identify different types of publications, for example scholarly publication vs. popular publication, is an important skill to learn. Popular publications include magazines, newspapers and trade journals.


What is a scholarly article?

  • A scholarly article is usually peer reviewed.
  • A scholarly article follows the IMRD-format: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion.
  • Scholarly articles are written by experts and academics from known organizations and educational institutions.
  • A scholarly article includes in-text references and bibliography.

Primary and secondary sources

Primary sources or original sources provide new information and give direct evidence on a topic. Primary sources include for example research articles and dissertations, where authors report their own research and its findings.

Secondary sources or second-hand sources discuss primary sources. Secondary sources comment, evaluate or summarize on a research, or draw conclusions from them. Secondary sources include for example news articles on a research, literature reviews and textbooks.

You should use primary sources whenever possible. Secondary sources include analysis and interpretation, which may distort the contents of the primary source. This doesn’t mean secondary sources are unusable, but you should consider their usability along with other criteria. Good secondary sources are for example a literature review published in a scholarly journal, where they draw together a number of research findings to summarize current knowledge on a topic or an article where the author summarizes the findings in his or hers dissertation.

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