The skill to critically appraise facts is necessary in all postgraduate courses. This ability is especially important in the writing of literature appraisals, where a critical approach or scrutiny of the literature is asked for.
In this outline, it is proposed that certain headings are used to assist in the structuring of the essay and they are: Source, Relevance, Objectivity, Method, Presentation and Timeliness.
The source of a bit of information (i.e. who wrote it? what was its source?) This will assist in providing a useful hint to its correctness. It shows the value of facts that promote its standing and expected worth. It is, thus, of great importance to be able to highlight the writer, or where the information came from.
Facts to think about writers:
- Do they know their subject area well?
- Are they well known and dependable sources?
- Are their opinions contentions?
- Have they often been referred to by other writers in the same discipline?
- To discover if written material has been often used necessitates having previous information about it or checking through research.
- Are they renowned for having a specific point of view on the subject?
Facts to think about concerning sponsoring organisations:
- What sort of organisation is it? Is it a commercial business, voluntary group, statutory organisation, research group?
- Is it a well known group?
- Does the organisation have any real interest in the topic being studied?
The way information is published is an important consideration:
- Any person is entitled to publish any information on the internet or insert it onto a discussion website. This has to be assessed on its own standing and while referring to the author’s authority on the subject.
- The quality of the editor, the editorial board and their specific editorial policy will affect the published material?
- Is the chronicle well respected? Does it have good ranking in the chronicle or Journal Citation Reports? Is this important?
- Does the information have any reviews? Many journals that are purely electronic have not been reviewed or commented on by anyone?.
The source of any bit of information may not be a clear indication of its value. There is a term referred to as the ‘stable theory’, which states that research work is often viewed with great regard just because its origin comes from a highly valued research organisation or is written in a highly valued journal. To a point, facts should be considered on the basis of their own standing. However, the source can be an indication as to how sound the information is so it is a necessity to check out whether the source is likely to be reliable. The source can influence other people’s trust in the sources you are referring.
Application is a vital component of for the quality of the information. It does not belong to the information, but it has a distinct relationship to it. It might be a bit of good worthwhile information but when applied to the question you are posing or the capacity of your research might not be suitable. There are several ways in which the information may not be necessary to your requirements.
- It might be related to countries or districts which you are interested in.
- It might be too simple or too sophisticated for your level of work
- It might not be emphasising material that is particularly relevant to the aim of your study.
Hints for assessing application include:
- Be obvious about what you need – this will inevitably assist you to be selective in ignoring information that does not have the right application .
- Do not waste your time reading exact details of your source – examine the heading, introduction or conclusion, precise words and descriptors. If you are assessing a considerable amount of information, learn to scan the information to get a fast clue of what it is all about.
- Put the research into context. Do the research conclusions offer an original view into a feature of your subject? Do they reinforce or disagree with the results of other academics?
In a real world, concrete or reasoned information would put forward all the proof and all the points of view, and allow you to assess this and come to your own conclusions. In the real world, however, we view all information from our own leaning, although this may not always be done on purpose. Being clear and honest, therefore, may not be possible.
In other words the burden is on you, the person who reads, to put together a critical viewpoint of the opinions presented in what you are reading, and to allow for this when you try to understand the facts. It is also necessary to know that your own values and viewpoints will have an effect on your ability to be unemotional and concrete when assessing facts.
In a few situations, writers may be deliberately attempting to put across a precise opinion – this is quite permissible as long as they are open about the viewpoint they hold. Concealed bias or the leaving out of facts, whether it is done on purpose or not, can misrepresent information. Think about the following issues:
- Standpoint: do the writers indicate precisely the stand they are taking?
- Viewpoint: Scholarly writing will often put forward unproven ideas so as to open a debate. Watch out for views that are offered as if they were true facts.
- Language: the type of language used can sometimes be a risky sign. Watch for language that is shows hype about an issue or is imprecise.
- Sponsorship: This could be personal sponsorship, political sponsorship or commercial. Some scholarly research might be supported by a specific industry or the government. This does not mean the research is more or less rational but it may make its interpretation selective. You must ensure that all possible interest groups are noted and that the sponsors are prepared to allow access to the real research information.
While compiling a literature assessment there is a specific burden on you to be able to identify any specific interpretation of information. You will have to mention on any obvious omissions or prejudices that you may come across in other individual’s results.
What information is actually extracted by using certain techniques? With your understanding of the techniques utilised in your subject consider the following.
- Do you know how the research was undertaken?
- Were the techniques suitable?
- Consider some simple points about the size and type of sample, the utilisation of a control group and design of the survey used as a questionnaire.
- Do the conclusions seem coherent considering the techniques used?
- Do the techniques suit your requirements? Is it necessary for the techniques to be identical to yours or can they differ?
Do not take for granted that while a research paper has been sent for publication, it is free of mistakes and meets a specific criterion. There have been some instances of fake research that have done well in tricking the research community and been put into high ranking journals.
The way in which facts and figures are presented has a deep influence on the way we acquire and understand them. There are many features of appearance and presentation, all of which, if poorly presented, can build a fence between the actual information and the reader.
- use of colour
- use of font type and size
- use of diagrams and images
- deficient or vague structure
- inconsistent layout
- bad presentation of language
- unsuitable or defective writing style
You must be conscious of poor appearance and unsuitable or confusing use of words which will prevent your ability to significantly judge the academic content. However, don’t be necessarily totally put off by poor appearance as this might prevent you from accessing some useful content.
The specific point in time when certain information was written or published can be an important indication of value. This is does not necessarily mean that the best information comes from the most recent date.
These points should be considered:
- The actual date of the information both collection, recording and writing
- Are my needs met by referring to information produced on that date?
- Has there been any further information written at a later date?