Evaluating Books

When conducting academic research, you need to be discerning when deciding to trust and use an information source. As with information from the Internet, information from books should be carefully evaluated. Use the five criteria below to help determine if your resource is credible.

Purpose
  • Why was this book written?
  • Is the information presented to share knowledge or personal opinions, give a factual report, create personal gain, provide an overview of something, share research, persuade the reader, sell something, or prove a point?
  • Is this resource an objective work that presents all sides of the argument, or a subjective work, presenting only certain viewpoints, biases, or opinions?
  • What aspects of your topic does this book or article not cover?
  • Can you determine how the research was funded? Is there a conflict of interest?
  • Is this information scholarly, governmental, popular, or from a business?
  • Can you tell if the information is intended for the general public or for a scholarly audience of academics and researchers?
  • Is the language and writing style understandable, intended for a specialized audience, or needlessly technical and complex?
Author
  • Has the author written other materials on this subject? Were those materials well-received?
  • Has the author earned a graduate degree in the area he/she is writing about? Does he/she conduct research or teach classes in this subject area?
  • What is the author’s background? Has he/she won any awards or honors?
  • Does the author work for an organization affiliated or concerned with, or potentially benefited by, the subjects that the author is writing about?
Publisher
  • What do you know about this publisher? Does the publisher have a solid reputation for publishing scholarly works? An editorial policy?
  • Is the publisher a large commercial, small independent, university, or alternative press?
  • Publisher information is usually located on the title page or on an article’s abstract page in a database. Explore publishers’ websites (if available)—read more about what types of work they publish, their editorial policies, and their position in the publishing world.
University Press Non-profit, specialize in scholarly or academic works. Affiliated with an institute of higher education.
Academic Publisher For-profit, specialize in scholarly or academic works. Not affiliated with an institute of higher education.
Commercial Publisher Most publishing houses are commercial. Publish materials ranging from children’s fiction to scholarly works.
Small/Independent Publisher Publish non-mainstream works from little known authors; usually provide editing and marketing.
Government Agencies Publish country-related information (economic, political, social etc.); may include a political agenda or bias.
Alternative Press Publish works on non-mainstream and alternative topics; can contain strong opinions or bias.
Professional/Trade Association Publish material related to their professions—include research or works by members of their associations.
Vanity Press or Self-Published The author paid for his/her work to be published—often lacks outside review or editing.
References
  • Can you tell if the information is documented fact or simply opinions?
  • Is the information in this source similar to information found in other credible sources?
  • Where did the author gather information for this work?
    Look for a bibliography, footnotes, or endnotes. Do those sources look reliable? Are they primary or secondary sources? Did the author use the latest sources available or are they much older than the work itself?
  • Did the author conduct original research, or include experiments, observations, or interviews?
Publication Date
  • How current does the information need to be for your topic?
  • Inaccurate and outdated information often lurks in older books. When researching a topic that changes constantly or demands only current information—such as in the fields of medicine or computer technology—it is important to pay attention to the timeliness of the materials you use.
  • Copyright date usually located on the title page of books.
Book Reviews

Never judge a book by its cover, but feel free to judge it by its review. Book reviews are useful when assessing the quality of a book and for getting an overview of the book’s contents.

Databases with Book Reviews

Academic Search Premier
On the advanced search page, scroll down to the Limit by Document Type menu. Select Book Review.

Expanded Academic ASAP
On the advanced search page, find the limit results by document type menu. Select Book review.

Literature Resource Center
On the advanced search page, scroll down to the Limit results by document type menu. Select Book review.

Journals with Book Reviews

Booklist
Provides reviews for books targeted to public libraries and school libraries.

Magill Book Reviews
Includes summaries of classic literature as well as current best sellers with 500 new reviews added each year.

The New York Times Book Review
Provides book reviews, news on new books, best-seller lists, fiction, non-fiction, literature, and children’s books.

Publishers Weekly
Includes book reviews, news, and analyses of book publishing.