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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

Evaluating Information: Accuracy

A research guide to evaluating print and online resources


  • Where does the information come from?  Is it supported by evidence?  Are there bibliographies or notes?
    • Bioethics, a 6-volume interdisciplinary reference set published in 2014, contains hundreds of essays written by scholars from around the world.  Essays include bibliographies that provide sources for additional research.
    • Augusta Stevenson's book, George Washington, Boy Leader, may not be useful for a research project.  Not only is it shelved in the juvenile / young adult section of Simpson Library, but it is also classified under the subject heading of "Washington, George, 1732-1799--Fiction."
    • The Internet has many web pages urging consumers to beware of radioactive cat litter, including this page from Ezine Articles.  A good site for a quick refutation of questionable stories and urban legends is  A search under radioactive cat litter brings up the website's "Glow, Cat, Glow!, which details the history behind this spurious "potential health threat" to cats and their owners.
  • Can you verify / refute any of the information in another source or from potential knowledge?
    • Eliot Ness: The Real Story (Paul W. Heimel, 1997) is about the leader of the crime-busting men of Prohibition-era Chicago, "The Untouchables." Although the book is a fascinating saga of American culture, Heimel includes verbatim conversations between his characters.  Since he wasn't there, how did he know what they said?  He also quotes what long-dead people were thinking.
    • Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever (Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, 2011) has received many favorable reviews.  It does mention, however, newspaper photographs of the 1860s and Abraham Lincoln's Oval Office.  Fact-finding in both print and non-print works show that the first newspaper photograph was published in 1880 and that President William Howard Taft occupied the White House's first Oval Office in 1909.
    • Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899) was one of the most popular authors of books for children and young teenagers during the nineteenth century.  His first biography was Alger: A Biography Without a Hero, by Herbert R. Mayes (1928).  This book was long regarded as a reliable, accurate work of non-fiction, until researchers discovered that Mayes made up most of it, basing his "research" on a diary that Alger never kept and letters that Alger never wrote.