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Evaluating Books

Unlike websites, books usually go through an extensive editing process. However, that does not automatically guarantee that every book written on your topic is suitable for your research needs. Consider these questions when evaluating books to use for your research.


What is the book's purpose?

  • Persuade the reader to do something?  i.e. vote a certain way, purchase something, attend something?
  • Inform the reader?  i.e. give results of an experiment or study?
  • Prove something?  i.e.  that a method works/doesn't work?
  • Entertain? For example: fiction, humor, gossip
  • Teach how to do something? For example: resumes, cover letters, care plans, lesson plans, etc.
  • Give an overview? For example: encyclopedias, textbooks

What is the organization and content?

  • Examine the table of contents and/or headings to determine if the book is organized in a logical and understandable manner.
  • Does the table of contents indicate that the book contains the information you need?
  • Is there added material such as illustrations and appendices you might use?

Who published the book?

  • A university press?  (usually more scholarly, quality info)
  • A commercial publisher? (tends to be oriented more toward general readership)
  • Government?
  • Professional or trade association, institution or research center?  (aimed at professionals in that field/subject area)
  • Self-published? Vanity press? (normally not a good sign of quality book)
  • When was it published?
  • Examine the timeliness of the book for your subject; is it: 
    • Up-to-date
    • Out-of-date
    • Timeless?

What is the authority of the author?

  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Where is the author employed?
  • What else has he/she written?
  • Has he/she won awards?

Who is the audience for the book?

  • General readers
  • Students at high schools, college or graduate school
  • Professionals or specialists
  • Researchers

Is there a bibliography?

Scholarly works contain a bibliography of resources that were consulted. References should be in sufficient quantity and be appropriate for the content.

  • Does a bibliography exist?
  • Is it short or long?
  • Is it selective or comprehensive?
  • Are references to primary sources or only secondary sources?
  • Are references contemporary to the book or much 2
  • Is the citation style clear and consistent?