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How Scientific and Technical Information Works

Learn everything you need to know about scientific literature, including how to find, understand, use, and ultimately create your own.

How to Evaluate Information: A Series of Questions

  • Who created this information?
    • Author:
      • Who are they?
      • What is their expertise or experience in this area?
      • What people and organizations are they affiliated with?
    • Publishing forum:
      • What's the name of the journal/magazine/newspaper/website that published this?
      • If a book, what publishing company?
      • What kind of review or editing process did this information go through before publication?
  • How was it edited?
    • From "self-published" to "peer reviewed", how much oversight did this information get?
    • Is the language (grammar, spelling, tone, etc) consistent? Are the author's arguments logical and coherent?
    • Is any major information (name of author, publication date) missing?
    • Does the author refer to other experts in the field, and are they cited in an appropriate manner?
  • Why was this information produced?
    • For science? For the furthering of human knowledge?
    • To inform the public or a particular audience?
    • To sell something?
    • To promote a particular point of view?
  • When was this information created and published?
    • New information is not always better. Sometimes "new" means "results have not yet been reproduced".
    • Depending on topic, particular time periods may be of interest. Articles from the period when scientists had just discovered nuclear fission would be very interesting.
    • Knowing when something was published can help you contextualize it within what was happening in the field and the world. In future, everything published between March 2020 and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic will need to be considered with that in mind.
  • What do you think?
    • You're bringing your own background, identity, and worldview to the table, as everyone must, whenever you absorb new information. How might those factors be shaping your reaction to this text?
    • Is this information going to be useful to you? Is it relevant to what you're trying to create or learn?

How to Read Scholarly Materials

"The hourglass information structure" (general to specific, then back to general) from "How to Read a Book" by Paul N. Edwards

Image from "How to Read a Book" by Paul N. Edwards.

Knowing how to read scholarly material, and understanding how these kinds of information tend to be structured, will be very helpful to you in your evaluative work. 

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