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Evaluating Bibliographic Citations

Summary:

Evaluating sources of information is an important step in any research activity. This section provides information on evaluating bibliographic citations, aspects of evaluation, reading evaluation, print vs. online sources, and evaluating Internet sources.

A bibliographic citation provides relevant information about the author and publication as well as a short summary of the text, usually known as the abstract. Depending on where you find your information, the bibliographic citation will vary.

Before you spend a lot of time reading a source, begin by looking at the following information in the citation to evaluate whether it's worth pursuing.

Consider the author, the title of the work, the summary, where it is (e.g., a book, an academic journal, a blog, a social media site), and the timeliness of the entry. You may also want to look at the keywords to see what other categories the work falls into. Evaluate this information to see if it is relevant and valid for your research.

Library Catalog

When searching for sources in a library catalog, the bibliographic citation will often include the author, the publisher, and the physical location of the source in the library (see image below). Using a library catalog is helpful if you are looking for print sources for your research.

This image shows a collection of books on the Purdue Library search engine, each with bibliographic information displayed under the book's title.

Example of bibliographic citations in a library catalog.

Once you find the bibliographic citation, take a look at the author and the publisher. Has this author published other works? Does the publisher list other publications on their website? If you are still uncertain about the credibility, locate the physical source and read bits of it to see if it contains information that’s relevant to your research.

Online Databases

When searching for information in online databases such as EbscoHost or ProQuest, you will most likely find a bibliographic citation entry beneath the title of the source.

This image shows a set of academic research papers found via the ProQuest Research Library search engine, each accompanied by bibliographic information.

Examples of bibliographic citations in an online database.

If a summary or abstract is not available in the preview, often you can click on the source and view more details (see image below).

This image shows a specific research paper landing page found via the ProQuest Research Library search engine. This page displays more detailed information than the general search results page shown above.

Sample extended bibliographic citation and abstract.

Websites

Different websites contain different levels of bibliographic citations. Sometimes it’s possible to find complete author information, while other times you may simply have a username or an author’s initials.

Most websites list the available author information directly under the title of the article or at the bottom of the article.

This image shows the beginning of an online magazine-style article. The author's name is clearly displayed beneath the headline.

Sample extended bibliographic citation and abstract.

Sometimes a website does not list an author. If this is the case, it’s important to determine whether the website itself seems credible. If the website is associated with a print publication, or is from a well-known organization, it is probably credible. However, you should read the article to determine whether the information seems valid. On the next page you will find more strategies for determining whether a source is credible.

This image shows the beginning of an online magazine-style article. A generic attribution to the publication's staff is displayed beneath the headline.

Sample extended bibliographic citation and abstract.

Understanding the differences in bibliographic citations is an important step as you search for sources to include in your research.