Comparative Checklist for Analyzing Print & Electronic Sources: What to Look for

Our historical era is sometimes referred to as the "Information Age." We live in a sea of data, bombarded on all sides by facts, statistics, technical definitions, stories, brochures, jokes, pictures, magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, films, books, ads, handouts--all of uneven quality. Of all this information, we can usually trust that which has been collected in a library, at least to some extent, because professional librarians have judged it worth the cost of acquiring and storing this information, which most often is printed on paper.

Internet information is different and more challenging. Some internet information is excellent. But much internet information is also worse than useless because it is deceptive. At first glance it may look authoritative, but further scrutiny reveals it as incomplete, commercially or otherwise biased, out-of-date, or just wrong. Or at first glance internet information may not itself look worthwhile, yet it may include links to other valuable data. How can you determine the value of a potential research source? Where exactly should you look in a source for features that determine its quality? What specific features of a source reveal its worth and allow you to evaluate its usefulness?

The following table is designed to help you evaluate research sources. It lists these specific features that you should examine. Match up each of your sources against the features in this list. Consider each feature and what it suggests about the value of the source being examined. Working through each feature will build an impression in your mind of the value of the source under examination.

Note: Not all these features are present in all sources.

"Print" source means a source that was originally published on paper, even if you are reading an emailed copy from an online database like Melvyl or an online news service.

"Electronic" source means a WWW page on the Internet.

Print Electronic
1. Material Appearance
- cover (marketing approach, implied audience)
- endorsements (quotations)
1. Graphic Presentation
- color, fonts, images, frames, animation, sound, video (implied purpose)
2. Reputation
- reviews: crosscheck Book Review Digest, Book Review Index
2. Recognition
- awards (check the awardgivers)
3. Author
- credentials: degrees, other publications (crosscheck Who's Who, American Scholars, American Men and Women of Science
- affiliation
3. Content Provider
- credentials
- email address or link to home page
4. Editor
- credentials
- of a series
4. Web Designer
5. Title and Subtitle
- diction and tone (implied purpose and audience)
5. Headings and Subheadings
- coded title (check HTML source)
- topic list
6. Table of Contents
- classification of information (sequence and relationships)
6. Site Map of Subpages:
Information Architecture

- navigational aids
7. Place of Publication 7. Site (URL server domain and extensions)
8. Publisher (commercial or nonprofit) 8. Sponsoring Organization (crosscheck in Encyclopedia of Associations
- link to home page (with mission statement)
- ads
9. Date
- subsequent and/or revised editions
9. Date and Update(s)
- recency, timeliness
10. Copyright 10. Restrictions on Use
11. Citation and References
- bibliography
- footnotes
11. Hyperlinks
- internally associated subpages
- external links
12. Index 12. Search Engine for Site
13. Catalog Information (LC or Dewey)
- classificatory labelling call numbers
- LC Subject Headings
13. Metadata
- XML or other identifying information in source code
- percentile approximation to search engine query
- Boolean operator NEARBY LC call numbers (Antpac)

by Ellen Strenski
Last updated: 30 August 1999