How to read and evaluate external sources


It can be quite daunting to try and make sense of external resources whether they be web pages, articles or book chapters. Often there are statistics or information within the material which is complex or not strictly relevant to your needs so the following is a brief guide which might help you approach this activity.

  • Some articles may have an abstract or introduction which will set the scene and provide an overview of the whole content. Reading this will provide you with an instant feel for the whole document and you will know whether you can discard it or explore further
  • Scan the whole document first; although you won’t retain all the information you will identify the concepts and ideas quickly and again know whether to explore further or discard.
  • If you decide that the document is useful then read it more thoroughly but do it in chunks and make notes about each section so that you have a record of your thoughts and evaluations for use later on
  • If you have been directed to read a specific text for an assessment then it is a good idea to have your notes and the text to hand so that you can refer to these and stay on track!
  • Determine what the text is about and what its purpose is
  • If it contains statistics try and establish what they say about the data, this will normally be reflected in the conclusion


One problem with conducting independent research for your studies is that you may feel that all texts are relevant but when you look more closely you will find they will not be. Therefore try to be discerning and above all stay focused. It is very easy to become side tracked into a subject area that is taking you away from your assessment question or in a completely incorrect direction for the course you are studying.


In order to use external sourced material to inform discussion points you have to understand its meaning and relevance to the topics you are studying. If you don’t understand the meaning behind the text you are reading then it is best not to use it as you will take your writing out of context or become bogged down in material that is irrelevant or you simply don’t understand.


Keep all your sourced material saved in a desktop folder or in whatever format you find easiest. The most frustrating thing when you are completing an assessment is to try and locate an article that you read weeks before hand but you did not save or retain the web link details of. Taking notes is therefore important because you may only want to comment on a very small section of the article but if you retain the reference details (which you will need for your assessment) you can always locate it at a later date.