Is this worth reading?
Five points to consider when deciding whether that article you just read is worth its salt…
Author(ity). Ask yourself: who wrote it? What is their background and level of expertise? If the author has written dozens of books on similar topics, chances are they know a lot. If the work is published in a leading journal or newspaper, chances are it has been edited and fact-checked by clever people. Known authors tend to have authority.
Subjectivity. Ask yourself: from what viewpoint is the article written and to what end? All writers will be, in some way, expressing their own subjective opinion, or towing the editorial line of the publication they are writing for. You can’t escape bias, but you must be aware of it. Consider:
- Is the article in a liberal or conservative-leaning publication?
- Is the article news (fact) or comment (opinion)?
- Does the article contain a balance of viewpoints?
- How is the publication funded?
- Have sponsors influenced the nature of the content?
- Is objective content supported by reliable data?
Origin. Ask yourself: Where does the information come from? Has the author acknowledged his or her sources? Has the publication been validated or endorsed by a reliable agency, for example a university or research centre? Has it been edited? Consider:
- Online articles can be altered after publication. Always take screenshots to back up quotes taken online and only use reliable websites that you know have been fact-checked
- Wikipedia is always changing. Use Wikipedia to get a general overview and spark ideas but never to quote
- Check your source’s sources, they should be made clear
Date. Ask yourself: When was the article written? If the book was written over ten years ago, is the information contained still accurate? Trustworthy, useful books tend to remain in print, but are you reading the most recent edition? How much does timeliness matter in reference to the subject you are writing about?
Helpfulness. Ask yourself: how relevant is this information to the subject and context of your essay? It is possible to go too broad. Consider:
- Does the information contain enough of what you need?
- Is it communicated through images and text in a way you understand?
- If you have two or more articles on a single topic, which is the most thorough and well written?
- Does your article contain original information, and if so, what new or different points does it put forward? Prioritise the article(s) you find most informative and engaging.
On effective note-taking:
- Underline and/or highlight key words and phrases
- Take down full Harvard referencing information and page numbers next to your notes and quotes
- Note down opinions and questions as they come to you
- Next to a quote, write down keywords on the general topic and points of particular interest to help with structuring later
- Write on post-it notes or cards that you can rearrange to help you to visualise your essay structure
- If you don’t understand something, look it up, or highlight to remind you to clarify later
- Consider colour-coding your notes by point(s) made to help with structure
- Bookmark pages by colour code or keyword
- Explain to and discuss with friends or family to help you digest and understand the information
- Read aloud. Consider recording voice notes play back and review later