Skip to main content

Beginning Research: Evaluate

Help for beginning research on your essay, paper or thesis.

Quick Tips



  • Refine your searches to get the best possible results. 
  • Always think about the evaluation criteria - is the information you are using relevant, current, authoritative and reliable?
  • Consider how authoritative your sources are.
  • Think about the credibility to the web pages are they suitable for scholarly purposes?
  • Be critical in your use of web material, particularly Wikipedia.

Refining Search Results

Too Many results

  • Try narrowing your search by adding further search terms
  • Use quotation marks to specify that words should be kept together as a phrase eg "global warming"
  • if you are searching for journal articles, try limiting your search to keywords in the title or abstract
  • check that you have constructed your search statement correctly and used parentheses if you have included OR
  • consider if your search is too broad

Too few results

  • Use truncation to broaden the search
  • Consider add some synonyms and alternative search terms to expand the results
  • you may need to repeat your search in multiple databases
  • check for spelling mistakes
  • reconsider the emphasis of your topic

Criteria for Evaluating Resources

This criteria can be applied to all types of information sources.


  • Scan the contents of the document or read the abstract.
  • You can also check the subject terms for the document in the library catalogue or database.
  • Are the subjects covered central or peripheral to your topic?


  • Consider whether you are looking for recent resources or historical information.
  • Check the date the resource was published, as the resource might be out-of-date.
  • Check if it has been updated (in the form of a new edition or update) to deal with changes in knowledge.

Authority and Reliability

  • Who is the author and what qualifications do they have for writing the document?
  • Are they backed by a reputable or traceable organisation?
  • Who is the publisher?

Audience - who is it intended for?

  • Information that is directed at high school students may not be appropriate for a university essay.
  • Equally, some academic work may be too advanced, specific or specialised for your needs.

Information that does not conform to these criteria is not necessarily flawed or unreliable, but you should use it with caution.

Research Material Overview

Studying at University level, your research should be supported by information sources which are authoritative and reliable.

Your search results may reveal a mix of academic articles and books, popular books and newspapers or magazine articles and primary source documents. Are they relevant to your research?
You should evaluate during...

  • a catalogue or database search
  • initial reading of an item
  • a web search

Learn more about evaluating credibility by exploring the "Evaluating Sources guide by James Cook University Library

      Evaluating Web Pages

      It is easy to find information on the internet but the majority of webpages that you find, probably aren't suitable for citing in your university assignments.

      If you find a resource on the open web, it is vital to critically evaluate the information before you consider using it for an assignment because Anyone Can Publish on the Web.




      Try the Internet Detective tutorial
      if you feel like
      you need some practise with evaluating websites.


      Here are some quick tips to help you to evaluation the relevance and the quality of websites. If in doubt don't use it!

      Author Checklist
      Are they known as 'experts' in the field? Are they associated with an institution or organisation in a relevant field? Do they list their qualifications? Do they provide contact details?

      Coverage Checklist

       Does this site address the topic you are researching? Is the information basic and cursory or detailed and scholarly? Is the information substantial? Was the page worth visiting? Does the site offer anything informative, unique, or insightful?

      Currency Checklist
      When was the page produced and how recently was it updated. Are there lots of broken links?

      Objectivity Checklist
      What is the author's point of view? What is the purpose of the site? Why was the site created? If there is advertising on the page, is it clearly differentiated from the information content?

      Site origin Checklist
      Look at the URL or address. Is it an educational, governmental, organisational or commercial website?

      Domain Categories
      .edu or .ac (academic institution)
      .gov (government body)
      .com or .co (commercial body)
      .org (non-profit organizations)
      .net (internet service providers)

      Accuracy Checklist

       Do you have good reason to believe that the information on the site is accurate?  Is the information presented cited correctly? Is the site free of careless errors, misspelled words, and poor grammar?