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Engineering 183: Engineering and Society

Evaluating Information

When evaluating a resource for credibility and appropriateness consider these questions.
  • Who is the author(s)?
  • When was the source published? How current is the information?
  • Is the information directly applicable to the situation at hand?
  • If not, how close is it to the current situation?
  • What underlying assumptions have been made in the data?
  • Is there any reason to suspect bias of any sort in this data source?
  • How good is the evidence given by (or cited) in the source?
  • Is there any potential conflict of interest?
  • Is any significant data omitted?
  • Are there any other data sources which should be consulted?
  • Are there conflicting potential causes for the event?
  • Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
  • What reasonable conclusions are possible?

Resource Types

Information comes in many different formats: journal articles, government documents, technical reports, etc. Here is a brief breakdown of the various categories; keep these points in mind when choosing resources for your paper.

Journal articles/Conference papers

  • Scholarly/academic sources for original research
  • Intended to inform or educate; also intended to broadcast developments in research to others in a field
  • Written and reviewed by researchers in a particular discipline
  • Footnotes/bibliography build credibility

Review papers

  • Usually based on scholarly/academic sources
  • Summaries of previous research on a topic, not original research
  • Useful for users new to a topic
  • Footnotes/bibliography build credibility; bibliography is extensive

Magazine articles/Newspapers

  • Popular sources
  • Often intended to entertain or to educate a wider audience
  • Lack citations or footnotes

Government documents

  • Includes sources from government agencies
  • Varies in content: overviews, technical reports, statistics, data sets, studies
  • Some intended for specialized audiences (scientists, engineers), others for consumers/citizens

Reference Sources

  • Includes encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, etc.
  • Takes many years for information to reach reference literature
  • Useful for an introduction to a topic

Patents

  • Official document securing to an inventor for a term of years the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention
  • Describes the invention in very precise terms

Dissertation

  • Long document, often book-length
  • Culminating requirement of a PhD degree

Blog post

  • Frequently updated web site
  • May contain personal observations, excerpts from other sources, usually contains links to other sources
  • Can be run by individuals, or groups

White paper

  • Released by companies, organizations, and government agencies
  • Authoritatively describe products, technologies, and policy
  • May or may not contain bias; sometimes used for marketing purposes
  • Typically provides a more detailed overview than press releases and many other forms of documentation

Flow of Information

The flow of information is a conceptual timeline of how information is created, disseminated, and found.  Information is dispersed through a variety of channels. Depending on the type of information, the time it takes to reach its audience could range from seconds to minutes, days to weeks, or months to years. Knowing how information flows helps you understand what types of information you need and how to search and obtain the targeted information.

Report of Experiment or Phenomena Time Frame Review Process Where to Look Written by Audience
News (Internet / TV / Radio Services / Newspapers) Seconds/Minutes No formal peer-review process Websites
TV news newspapers
Journalists General public
Magazines (print and online) Days / Weeks No formal peer-review process Article Databases
Library catalog
Professional journalists, science writers General public to knowledgeable layperson
Conference Proceedings Presented immediately, sometimes published 1-2 years later Possible peer-review 

Article Databases
Conference websites

Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and grad students
Journal articles (print and electronic)
 
Average 3-9 months Formal peer-review process Library catalog
Article databases
Journal website
Google Scholar
Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and students
Review articles Average 1-2 years Formal peer-review process

Article databases
Review journals
Google Scholar

Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and students
Technical Reports and Government Documents Months to years No formal peer-review process

Technical report databases
Science.gov

Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs  Audience varies depending on document or report
Books, E-books Average 1-3 years Editorial process, not peer-review

Library catalog
Ebook Collections

Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs General public to specialists
Reference Sources, Encyclopedias Average 10 years Editorial process, not peer-review

Library catalog
Ebook Collections

Specialists in the field, usually scientists or engineers with PhDs General public to specialists
Websites and Blogs Seconds/minutes to years none Web search tools Anyone General public to Specialists