Definition: Information assessment
Having located relevant evidence, you need to be able to critically assess its quality before you use it. Knowing how to assess what you have found will enhance your confidence in using evidence to make decisions.
- Evidence can be assessed in several ways.
- The reliability of the conclusions we draw from evidence may be influenced by the research methods used in the generation of that evidence.
- It can be useful to look at the original data upon which evidence is based, rather than relying entirely on the conclusions and interpretations of others.
|Assess: full link list (doc)
1. Does the evidence come from a credible source?
Evidence is available to you from lots of different sources, but not all sources of evidence are equally good. It is important to decide whether the information you have found is of high quality from a variety of perspectives including where it originated, its authority, currency, objectivity and suitability for your purposes.
Links (online resources):
- Critical Evaluation of Information Sources
This site from the University of Oregon Libraries gives information on how to evaluate all types of information sources in terms of authority, objectivity, quality, coverage and currency.
- Critical Evaluation of Resources
This resource developed by the University of California, Berkeley provides further information about evaluating a variety of sources with reference to suitability, authority and a number of other indicators.
- Critically analysing information sources
Developed by Cornell University Library, this resource outlines how to make an initial appraisal of an information source based on the bibliographic citation.
- Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask
This resource from the University of California, Berkeley provides information about evaluating websites.
- The PROMPT checklist
This resource developed by the Open University is designed for evaluating sources of information found on the internet, but is relevant to any type of evidence.
2. How reliable is the evidence?
Critical appraisal skills focus on expecting the conclusions reached by research reports to be justified by the data collected. The type of evidence (for example, qualitative or quantitative) and the ways or methods by which it was gathered (for example, a survey, a randomised trial, or a focus group) will have an impact on how confident you are about the conclusions it puts forward. The evidence from some methods, such as larger studies and systematic reviews, tends to be seen as more reliable than that from others. However, all methods, from a large systematic review of a number of random controlled trials to a single case study, have their own merits and are appropriate at different times.
The following resources give a brief overview of different research methods and also cover general points for appraising research and more specific issues relating to particular types of research methods.
Links (online resources):
- Appraising Research Evidence
This resource is part of Think Research a downloadable guide, supplemented by online resources that sets out principles for using research evidence to select and monitor social services. This tool looks at grading the reliability of research conducted using different types of methods and is an in depth guide to appraising random controlled trials, quasi-experimental trials and qualitative research.
- Assessing and Appraising Research Evidence
Critical appraisal skills focus on expecting the conclusions reached by research reports to be justified by the data collected. This resource is Chapter 3 of Think Research a downloadable guide, supplemented by online resources that sets out principles for using research evidence to select and monitor social services. This chapter provides an overview to help you to understand some of the different methods researchers use to conduct research.
- What is critical appraisal?
This document covers the main elements of critical appraisal of research evidence. Although it has a medical context the principles are directly relevant for social services.
3. Does the source accurately summarise the evidence that has been gathered?
Even the best research can be intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented, so it can be useful to go beyond the executive summary or abstract in order to better understand what the research is telling you. This helps you to decide whether you agree with what the author is telling you about the evidence that has been gathered.
Links (online resources):
- How to understand statistics
An entertaining look at the key things to look for in statistical information and how it can be misleading.
- Those scary statistics
A simple look at some key statistical concepts, such as the mean, median, standard deviation and statistical significance.
- When the facts get in the way of a story: Bad Science
This weekly column in The Guardian is an entertaining look at the way that the media can sometimes distort research and statistics, and also an easy to understand guide to the principles of critiquing research. The column referenced looks at the way that a 0.4% increase in reported cocaine use by children became the headline: ‘Cocaine floods the playground’.