Information is relevant when it helps you to answer your research question. You assess the information on the basis of format, content and degree of up-to-dateness.
Does the information support your research question and the aim of your research?
Ask yourself the following questions:
* Does the information answer my research question?
* Is the level/standard of the information appropriate for my research question and the aim of my research?
When you are conducting academic research into depression, an article from Cosmopolitan or Hello! will not provide information of the standard you require. You need information which satisfies scientific requirements. Articles from academic journals are therefore more appropriate. (See the chapter Choosing information sources)
Have you chosen the right type of source (book, article, thesis, etc.) for the information you need?
If you are looking for background information, it may be better to look at a book or website rather than an in-depth research article. If you are writing a light-hearted article (e.g. for National Geographic), you won’t need to read PhD theses. For more information, see the chapter Choosing information sources.
The term ‘current’ usually refers to recent events or developments. The date of publication of an article is an indication of the currency of the information it contains. The general rule is: the more recent, the better. When there are several editions of a book, you should use the most recent one.
Especially in the case of far-reaching historical events, books published before such an event will by definition be out of date. For instance, if your research topic is Terrorism in the 21st century, literature published before 9/11 will no longer be current. The same goes for publications dating from before the Arabian Spring if your research is about the current political situation in the Middle-East. When studying topics from earlier historical periods it could be that the approach towards these topics has changed over time. This may make certain older publications no longer current. On the other hand, an older publication may still adequately describe the essence of a historical event or development. In that case such a publication may still considered to be current.
When you are researching a topic from the very recent past, no current academic literature may be available yet. During the course of 2016 the first academic articles will appear about the Brexit, but it will be a while before new editions of handbooks are published in which this topic is covered.
How complete is the information you have found?
Are you sure you haven‘t overlooked any relevant information? Have you considered all points of view? Although being comprehensive is usually not possible and at this stage in your academic career not strictly necessary, you should always try to be as complete as possible in the literature you are using for your research.
This refers to how sure you can be that the information is correct. How credible is the information? How objective is the information? There are several aspects to take into consideration when you are assessing how reliable your information is. These aspects relate to the origin of the information as well as its quality.
* What do you know about the author? Is he an authority on the subject? Is he a recognized author in his subject area? Which organization does he work for?
* What do you know about the organization? Publications by well-known and respected organizations are generally more reliable than material published by vague charitable foundations with dubious or unclear objectives.
* Does the author or organization receive funding from sponsors? Sponsorship is not necessarily a problem, but be aware of any commercial interests that may be involved.
* Is the quality of the publication assessed? If so, is this done by editors? Are articles peer reviewed? (See chapter 1)
Peer-reviewed articles are very reliable because they have been critically assessed by more than one expert/academic.
* Are the supposedly factual descriptions correct? Check whether they are backed up by information in other sources.
* Are opinions supported by facts?
* Is informing the reader the author's primary goal, or is he rather trying to persuade his audience? (Opinion-forming, propaganda, etc.)
* Is the information based on hard facts or on opinions?
* Is the subject explored from different perspectives?
* Are source references provided?
* What is the quality of the cited sources?
* Is it possible to verify whether the information is correct and complete?
In Kate Turabian's book A manual for writers of term papers, theses, and dissertations you will find information on assessing the usability of literature, on page 33-36. The criteria mentioned here are 'relevance' and 'reliability'. 'Relevance' relates to the subject of a publication. She shows how you can discover quickly what a publication is about. You can assess the 'reliability' of a publication by looking at the author, the publisher, whether it has been peer-reviewed or not, how the publication has been reviewed in book reviews and how often it has been cited by other scholars.
The reliability of material found on the internet is harder to asssess, because this has been published outside of regular scientific publishing channels.