4. Evaluating Chemical Information Sources

The primary goal of evaluating sources is to determine if they are acceptable to use for your purpose. Underlying acceptance is a decision about reliability, which may be influenced by a number of factors including the origination of the information, the level of the review, the adequacy of the citation, additional description and recommendation and/or use by authorities or peers. It is important in some fields, such as chemical safety, to distinguish where the information came from, the commercial, academic research, government, education or general public sectors. It may also be helpful to know how the information has been previously analyzed, particularly if it has been certified or correlated with other authoritative sources. 


Some general questions you can ask yourself as you are reviewing sources include2-38:

●Is the purpose of the source and specific study or information clearly described?

●Are the methods used in the study or to generate the information adequately described?

●Has the technique been repeated? independently? validated by models?

●Are the results consistent with other similar published studies?

●Is the source reviewed, by peers? by authoritative experts?

●Is the author identified? is the study clearly traceable by citation?

●Does the source include references to other relevant literature?


With answers to these questions, you will have a good idea on the provenance of the data or information you are using, which will help you to determine how much you can trust it. Once you accumulated sufficient experiences in reading and evaluating sources, your judgment about a particular source may become more intuitive. However, keeping these questions in mind will help you to stay objective. The answers to these questions will also help you determine the additional information you want to include with your own writing when citing the sources so that the audience is aware of the context from which you draw your conclusions.

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