Evaluating Sources

IB AtL Research Skills

Choosing and evaluating your sources

Keep in mind - not all sources are the same! It depends on your purpose, and it is also important to have a variety of sources for any project. Lastly, you need to carefully make sure that your sources are unbiased and reliable. The sources you use are a reflection on you as well!

Types of Resources: Primary and Secondary

Evaluating your Sources: RADCAB

Want to evaluate your sources?

This is important, as many resources, especially ones you find online, are not checked for accuracy or currency. You are responsible for ensuring that the resources you use are valid.

The AtL skills you are using:

  • Collect and verify data
  • Read critically and for comprehension
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on their appropriateness to specific tasks
  • Critically analyse various text forms for underlying meaning
  • Advocate and practise safe, legal and responsible use of information technology

One way of helping you evaluate your sources of information is to use a model called RADCAB.  RADCAB is a mnemonic acronym devised by Karen M. Christensson, a librarian in the USA.  Mnemonic means: a method of retaining information.

Although the acronym used in the video below is slightly different, the main ideas are the same! In this example they are evaluating a website, but the same goes for any type of resource.

Make sure the information you are tracking is relevant to your project title.  Stay on task and avoid being distracted by information that is not relevant.  Before undergoing any searches construct a plan of what it is you need to find out and how you are going to do it.

Brainstorming – write down as many keywords, phrases, search terms and questions related to your project title. This will not only help you save time when you are sat in front of a computer about to embark on your search, but will also help you focus on your you key questions. 

Is the information you are tracking appropriate?  Do you understand the language or do you even enjoy the search activity you are carrying out?   Do not be shy about admitting you do no not understand the language of a particular resource (website, book, database or even a primary source such as an interviewee).  The source may be written in a language not appropriate for your age group or your current academic ability.  The person you are interviewing may be using words you don’t understand.

There are mechanisms to help you understand information, such as a dictionary or a thesaurus. Do not be put off at the first attempt, but do not persevere with search activities that confuse you or make you feel uncomfortable.  Above all, do not be afraid to ask for help.  Your teachers cannot do the work for you but they can help you to help yourself.

How much detail do you wish to go into?  This will impact on the amount and kind of information you need. 

Is the information you are tracking detailed enough or does it go into too much detail?

Currency of information means how up to date it is.   What your project is about will influence your decision on how current the information you use needs to be.  If your project is a scientific project, then up to date information will be the order of the day but if you are writing a historic project then older resources could provide you with more suitable material.  Please do not be deceived by technology.  Simply because something is on the Internet, does not mean it is more current than information that is published in a book.   Regardless of your information source, always check its currency.  When was a book published?  When was a website last updated?  How frequently does a journal come out?  Is a database updated regularly?

This translates as accuracy and credibility.  Those assessing your work will need to see that you have taken the time to check that your information sources are reliable.  If your information sources prove to be unreliable and unconvincing your project will lose its credibility and affect your overall grade.  Remember to check the credentials of the individual author or organisation responsible for the information.

Find out more: How to ‘Read’ a Webpage

Why has the author written the article or book?  Is it to inform, entertain, to persuade or even to sell?  Opinionated writing is not always wrong, but if the reader is informed of why an author holds a particular opinion, the reader is able to make better judgments about the author’s writing.  Important things to look out for are:

  • The language tone
  • The origin of the document
  • Marketing methods

Objectivity is often (but not always) required when writing an essay or a project.  Being objective means balancing your argument with those of others.

Evaluating your Sources: Other models

OPVL Visual

Evaluating Products: ACCESS FM