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Library Research Skills for Land and Food Systems


  • Does the source update other works, support other works you've read, or add new information?
  • Does the source cover the topic comprehensively, or does it only cover one aspect? Make sure to analyze enough sources to obtain a range of viewpoints on all facets of the topic.
  • For books, a table of contents and index can be helpful in assessing the coverage of the work.
  • For online sources, is the site complete or still under construction? Does the source seem stable, or is it likely to change much between the time you read it and the time your research is finished?
  • For online sources, if there is a print equivalent to the website, is there clear indication of whether the entire work or only a portion is available online?

Why question the coverage of a source?

Be wary of sites like wikis whose content may change rapidly and dramatically.

If you are looking at a website for which there is a print equivalent check to see if the entire work is online. If it is a portion of the work make sure that quotes have not been taken out of context or information has not been misrepresented.

Purpose and audience

  • Why was the source created - to educate? sell a product? advocate a viewpoint?
  • Is the publication aimed at a general or a specialized audience?
  • Is the source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your research needs?
  • Which parts of the information presented are fact and which are opinion?

Why question the purpose and audience of a source?

You want to ensure your sources are at the appropriate level for your research, and distinguish between facts and opinions. What is the difference between fact and opinion?

Facts are usually verifiable. Opinions may be based on factual information, but evolve from the interpretation of facts. Most scholarly work will contain both; for example, scientists develop interpretations of data from several points of view successively in their writing. Each point of view expresses the implications of a different assumption. Think of these writings as the interpretations themselves (i.e., a record of the process of interpreting). That record of process is extremely valuable to you when you find and recognize it because it gives you models for your own thoughts (either to emulate or avoid).