Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

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4. Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information
Finding Information Evaluating Information

Evaluating Information: Books

Articles Internet Sites Authors Writing Annotations/Reviews

Critical thinking is essential when searching for research materials and while reading them. Books are generally more reliable sources for research than many other kinds of material, as they cost so much to produce and usually have not only an author, but also editors and publishers to ensure their quality. There are, however, different kinds of publishers and different reasons for publishing. Book reviews can help you select appropriate books to use, but your own critical judgement will also be required. Critical reading involves questioning (e.g. how does the author know this? Are the statements made supported by fact or are they interpretations or opinion? Are there obvious biases or are narrow perspectives limiting the author's conclusions? etc.). Readers should be wary of logical fallacies (conclusions that don't follow from the arguments made), statements or conclusions based on assumptions, speculation, insufficient evidence, inaccurate use of statistics, and other errors.


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Checklist for Evaluating Books
A quick, do-it-yourself checklist of things to consider when evaluating books on their suitability for your research. Think TACO:
  • Topic
  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
Topic:
Read the title, sub-title, if any, and as much other information as possible to determine the main topic(s) of the book, and for clues on its scope, orientation, and limitations. In a bibliography, the title may be all you have to go on. In a library catalogue there should be subject headings assigned to the book. In some online systems (or if you can look at the actual book) read the table of contents, the introduction, preface, book jacket blurb, and any reviews or quotes about the book. (Be aware of bias on publisher blurbs – they are written to sell the book.)
Authority:
Who is the author, publisher, or creator of the work? What are their credentials or qualifications, their background, experience or connection with the topic? (You may not be able to answer these questions quickly and easily. See Evaluating Information: Authors.) Have they written other books on the topic? Is the book frequently quoted or included in the bibliographies of other books or on recommended reading lists? Does the publisher frequently appear on recommended reading lists? Was the book reviewed by subject specialists, e.g. in a discipline-specific journal? Does the author rely on authoritative sources? Check the bibliography, footnotes, reference notes or endnotes for the kinds of sources used.
Currency:
What is the publication or copyright date? Is the date appropriate for the topic? Has the book been revised? Are there several editions? What are the dates of the books listed in the book's bibliography?
Objectivity:
Is the work relatively unbiased, balanced, objective? Why was it written? Is there a stated purpose, specific audience, or other goal mentioned? Does the subject seem to be treated equally and fairly? Does it give different sides of the issue? Are opposing sides even mentioned? Are the arguments based on fact or opinion? Are facts properly cited? What kinds of books does the publisher normally publish? Some publishers specialize in books of a certain viewpoint. If it is a university press the book is likely to be scholarly and relatively unbiased.
Other, more detailed guides to evaluating information:
Book Evaluation Chart. By Scott Mandernack. Purdue University Libraries. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/rguides/studentinstruction/evaluation/bookevaluationchart.html.

Critically Analyzing Information Sources. By Joan Ormondroyd, Michael Engle, and Tony Cosgrave. Cornell University Library. http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/skill26.htm
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Book Reviews:
Book reviews written by subject specialists can be a useful tool for finding out quickly whether a book is considered a "good" book on your topic, ie. whether it adds something new to the topic or presents information in a useful way. Reading a review before you read the book can help you pick out the main points more easily. You can also use (and cite) the opinions of the reviewer in your research.

A good review will place the book in context, comparing it to others on the topic and pointing out any special features or arguments made. The best reviews for research purposes are written by experts in the field, and are usually found in scholarly journals. Excellent reviews of some more popular political books may also be found in mainstream journals and magazines.
TIP: Beware of reviews written by someone connected with the publication or sale of the book (e.g. bookseller, publisher, author), or by people who are not necessarily experts or even knowledgeable about the topic or the field (e.g. Amazon.com provides "customer reviews").
Book reviews can be found by searching a generic book review index, journal and newspaper indexes, and in some booksellers' databases. The following are some of the most useful of these for finding reviews of books on contemporary Canadian politics and government:
Back to Use Book Reviews Book Reviews in Journal & Newspaper Indexes Booksellers' Databases
Book Review Indexes:

Book Review Digest. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1905 -- . Monthly. Also available online.
This publication provides excerpts of selected reviews from approx. 80 popular journals published in the U.S., Canada and U.K. The print version is organized in alphabetical order by author’s last name, with a title/subject index in the back.
Print cumulative author/title indexes: 1905-1974, 1975-1984, 1985-1994.
Canadian Book Review Annual. Ed. by Joyce M. Wilson. Toronto: CBRA, 1975 - .
Not just an index, this annual also includes complete 200-400 word evaluative reviews written by subject specialists. Covers English-language books published by Canadians in Canada.
Has an alphabetical author/title and subject index.
CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. Middletown, Conn: Association of College and Research Libraries. 1964 - . Monthly with annual cumulated index. Also available online.
This publication includes brief reviews by subject speicialists for university-level English-language academic books. Includes some Canadian books, but is mostly American.
Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Scholarly Journals, 1886-1974. Arlington, VA: Carrollton Press, 1979-82. 15 vols.
The first 12 volumes of this 15-volume set contain references to reviews from 459 scholarly journals in history, political science and sociology arranged alphabetically by author. The last three volumes are the title index.
Back to Use Book Reviews Book Review Indexes Booksellers' Databases
Book Reviews in Journal and Newspaper Indexes:

Most indexes and databases that contain or index journal and newspaper articles will also be useful for finding book reviews. In print indexes like the Canadian Periodical Index look for the heading "Book Reviews" and entries in alphabetical order by the book's author. In online indexes type in the title and/or author's name and combine this with the keywords "book review" or "book reviews" depending on the database, or limit by article type or format, if possible.

See Finding Information: Analysis & Reports in the Popular Press and Finding Information: Current Events/News for details on recommended indexes and databases for Canadian government and politics.

Back to Use Book Reviews Book Review Indexes Book Reviews in Periodical Indexes
Booksellers' Databases:

Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com
This book seller's site contains many English language books currently in print and books listed in Books Out of Print, but Canadian ones are not a strong suit. Information provided on books may include (not always present): image and text on book cover, full-text reviews from a review journal, customers' reviews, descriptions written by the author, table of contents, and sometimes a short excerpt or selected passages from the book.
NOTE: "Editorial reviews" are written to sell the book and "customer reviews" can be contributed by anyone, not necessarily people who are objective or knowledgeable about the topic.
Books in Print with Book Reviews - Canadian Edition. Micromedia/ProQuest.
This database includes over 2 million books and videos either published in Canada or published in the U.K. and U.S. and distributed in Canada. Full text book reviews are included for less than a quarter of the titles.
Chapters.ca. http://www.chapters.ca
Information on books includes blurbs on content, publisher's review, details on the author and selected quotes from other reviewers.
RenoufBooks. http://www.renoufbooks.com
This book store does not provide reviews, but specializes in publications of the Canadian government, research institutes, international organizations and other bodies not well covered by academic or commercial review sources. Books can be searched by keyword or browsed by organization name. Information provided includes the publisher's blurb describing the book and in some cases also table of contents, and details on the authors.
Articles Internet Sites Authors Writing Annotations/Reviews
Finding Information Evaluating Information
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Last Updated: July 31, 2007
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