Please note that the IBO and the Department of Education have specific evaluation requirements for the Extended Essay and the pre-submitted Leaving Certificate history essay which your teacher will outline to you.

This guide refers to print sources (books, journals etc.).  Please refer to Miss Ryan’s handout ‘Website Evaluation Criteria’ for guidance on how to evaluate a website.

What do I know about the author?

Who is the author?

What are his or her academic credentials?  Is he or she a ‘hobbyist’?

What else has this author written?  Is there a bibliography at the end of the book or article to which you can refer?

What do I know about the publisher the author has selected?

What do I know about the source?

Is it a general work that provides a broad overview of the topic (eg World War II on the Eastern Front) or is it specifically focused on one specific aspect of your topic (eg Operation Barbarossa?).

Does the source cover the time period in which you are interested?

Is the material too technical? Is it too basic?  Are there generalizations that overstate or oversimplify the matter?  Are there ‘sweeping statements’ that aren’t backed up with evidence?  Does it appeal to your emotions?  Are there gaps in the evidence?

Is it a primary or secondary source of information?

Primary sources include diaries, government documents, transcripts of legal proceedings, eyewitness accounts and oral histories.  They are usually created at the time concerned.  Be aware that eyewitness accounts and oral histories may be biased as the source may be too involved to be objective.  Official statements may suffer from bias or concealment.  Paintings and photographs are considered to be primary sources.

Do the primary sources you have used corroborate one another?

Secondary sources usually interpret primary sources.  They are not based on personal involvement in events.  Usually they are books and articles which interpret the events you are researching.  It is not unusual for authors of secondary sources to differ in their interpretation of events.

Historians use two tests when evaluating sources:

Consistency (does it contradict itself?)

Corroboration (do the sources agree with one another?)

Another useful technique is to:

Identify the author’s argument

Show your understanding of the case he or she is putting forward

Comment on what this reveals about the issue

Why was the book or article written?

Was it written to contribute to the knowledge base of the subject or for entertainment?

Who is the intended audience? Has it been written for other researchers or the general public?  Look at the table of contents, preface and/or introduction.

What point of view is the author or source trying to get across?  Is he or she trying to argue a particular position?  Has the author an agenda?  Have you considered bias (political, religion, gender, cultural)?  Are arguments one-sided with no acknowledgment of other viewpoints?  Can results/conclusions be backed up with evidence?

Is the language used in the source objective or emotional?

Is the source sponsored by a company or organization?  Are they trying to promote a particular position at the expense of objectivity?  Is there a conflict of interest?

How old is the source and how many editions have been published?

When was it published?  The older it is the less likely it reflects current thinking on the subject.  However, be aware that and ‘old’ book/author may be the ‘classic’ in the field.

Is it a first edition?  Second and further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge.  Multiple editions may indicate that the source has become the standard work in the field as is reliable.

How have the author’s peers rated the source?

Log onto EBSCO and search for the author’s name or the title of the book/article.  Is the review of their work positive?

Is the source considered to be a valuable contribution to the field?

Does the reviewer mention other books/articles that might be better?  If yes, find these sources for more information on your topic.

Has the source aroused controversy/debate amongst critics?  Why?

What Do Others Think of It?

Why not make use of expert opinion?  Books are sometimes reviewed on the Ebsco dateabase.  Ask the Librarian for help if you don’t know how to use it.


Remember to consider the following every time you evaluate a source: