6. Evaluation of the search results

6.2. Library catalogues and bibliographic databases

Library catalogues and bibliographic databases

There are 4 criteria which can be used to evaluate your search results from library catalogues and bibliographic databases:

In the next pages we will explain these 4 criteria: 

Type of document

The type of document can give an indication of the scope and content: e.g. a textbook will normally give a good introduction to a subject. Conference proceedings can give an overview of the state of the art. Leaflets and pamphlets can not be considered to treat a subject in depth. A PhD thesis will reflect high quality research over a longer period but subject coverage is usually not very broad. Books tend to give a broader coverage than journal articles but the latter tend to be more up to date.

So the first step will be to examine the bibliographic citation. The bibliographic citation is the written description of a book, journal article, essay, or some other published material that appears in a catalogue or database. Bibliographic citations characteristically have three main components: author, title, and publication information. These components can help you determine the usefulness of this source for your paper.

Most bibliographic databases will show you the records in a tagged format. Look for PT (Publication type) or DT (Document Type). If you get references from other sources (for instance a list of references at the bottom of an article), you should look at the structure of the citation. Below are some examples of citations to the three main document types.

Journal articles

citation article


Books and other monographs

citation books

Book chapters

citation chapter

Some hints

  • The presence of a first and last page number indicates that the document is either a book chapter or a journal article.
  • Volume and issue details indicate a journal article.
  • A city and the name of a publisher indicate a book or book chapter. For journal articles the publisher is never mentioned, only the journal title is given.
  • Journal titles are often abbreviated.

See also module 2 for a description of the various sources of information

Subject and scope

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. Look at the title, keywords or subject headings and other indexing terms and read the abstract if available.

If possible read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic. Scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. As with books, the presence and quality of a bibliography at the end of the article may reflect the care with which the authors have prepared their work.

Try to answer the following questions:

  1. Does the document cover the right topic?
  2. What is the breadth of the article, book or other material?
  3. Is it a general work that provides an overview of the topic or is it specifically focused on only one aspect of your topic?

In determining the appropriateness of a resource, it may be helpful to determine whether it reflects primary research or secondary research.

Primary research presents original research methods or findings for the first time. Examples include:

  1. A journal article or research report that presents new findings and new theories, usually with the data
  2. A poster presented at a conference

Secondary research provides a compilation or evaluation of previously presented material. Examples include:

  1. A review article summarizing research or data
  2. A textbook
Intended audience

What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at scientists, professionals or a general audience? Is this source too elementary or basic, too technical or applied, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

You are more likely to retrieve documents written for the appropriate audience if you start off in the right database. For instance, a search in Web of Science will only yield articles from highly reputed academic journals, whereas a search in Geobase will also yield articles from professional journals

See Module 5 for the description of the various databases

Date of publication

Make sure the date of publication is appropriate for your project. Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. On the other hand, topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago.

The bibliographic description should have the year included.