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Evaluating sources of information and media - Skills Guide: Home

Evaluating sources of information

What is information?

Librarians and information scientists think of information as being part of a hierarchy: Data, information, knowledge. It is useful for you to start understanding why we make that distinction.


Data is the 'raw' data that is all around us Usually you can ask basic questions that have only one answer to establish that something is data; How fast is the car going? How much electricity does your laptop use per hour? How many people fit in this lecture theatre? Data are often basic facts, like the date, the location, medium of publication and so on. You can pretty definitively decide the 'value of data' if you have the right tools available.


When people start applying this data into a way that provides meaning, it becomes information. For example when a University is creating a time-table it uses data of time, place, capacity, size of class, activity and so on and parses all this data into a document that you, as a student, receive as information - it informs you where you have to be, when you have to be there and usually which module or activity it concerns. Information then is almost always the result of combining different data, utilising knowledge to do so. 


You apply knowledge as well to gain further information, you might look at your timetable the day before and then look back at last weeks' notes, you might read up on the topic for the upcoming lecture or indeed do some of the coursework the lecturer asked you to do. Knowledge is the ability to bring together information and apply it to the requirements of that particular situation. 

Information age

With the growth of the Internet, information is now available at the click of a button: ‘on demand’, unlimited in its quantity, and seemingly free. In addition, much more is available through subscription and in print. Having this quantity of information available to us all is extremely useful when we are researching a topic, but it does make quality much more difficult to discern.

Evaluation skills are about having knowledge of different types of information sources so that you can identify them (eg. What they look like and what features they have, what kind of content they contain, where they are found, what format they are in), and being able to ask critical questions to assess their quality (eg. Who authored the content? Is the content evidence based or opinion based? What purpose is it written for? Where have they published it and why in that format?).

Why do I need to learn about evaluation skills?

Being able to evaluate the quality of the sources of information you find is an essential academic and life skill, as it can help you to improve your critical thinking and reading abilities. If you improve your evaluation skills, then the quality of the information you find and use will increase.

Reasons to learn and improve your information evaluation skills:

  • To develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of your subject.
  • To be able to identify credible, valid and quality information.
  • To improve your chances of gaining higher grades.



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