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TC Library Online

A guide to library resources


Books are excellent sources for information such as:      

  • in-depth coverage of a subject       
  • history and chronology      
  • overview of a big topic        
  • background information          
  • bibliographies of additional sources. 

A book doesn't need to be read cover-to-cover to be used for research. To determine how appropriate and useful the book might be, look at its parts as outlined below.

The Title Page gives publication information such as complete title, names of all authors or editors, edition of the book, name of the publisher, city of publication, and date of publication.

The Table of Contents appears at the front of a book and gives a list of the chapters or sections in a book, usually with the corresponding page number.  The table of contents may give a general idea of the topics covered in the book as well as how the book is arranged (for example, chronologically or topically).

A List of Illustrations, which may appear at the front of a book, gives a list of photographs, drawings, tables, or other types of illustrations used to support the contents of the book, usually with corresponding page numbers.

A Preface, Forward, or Introduction may provide the reader with ideas about the author's intention or purpose for writing the book, and may give an indication of the depth of research presented.

A Bibliography is a list of materials related to a specific topic. The list may be sources that were used to create the work they accompany, or it may be a list of additional materials on the topic.   Bibliographies may be located at the ends of chapters throughout the book, or at the end of the book.

The Index, which is usually located in the back of the book, is an alphabetical list of the specific subjects in the book, along with the corresponding page numbers.  Indexes may provide names, dates, events, geographic locations, and other detailed terms related to the contents of the book. Browsing an index is an excellent way to identify exactly where in the book relevant information may be located.  An index can also provide subject terms and keywords that might be useful for further research on a topic.

Just because something is in print does not mean that it's a good, reliable, authoritative, appropriate source of information for your research. Listed below are some important criteria to consider when evaluating a book -  or any information source - for your research.

How to evaluate a book

When you're reading books, ask yourself the following questions to help you assess what type of publication you are reading:

  • What is the purpose of the book?  Is it to inform, persuade, entertain, teach, or provide an overview on a topic?
  • Who is the intended audience? General readers, students (high school, college, graduates), professionals? Researchers or scholars?
  • What authority does the author have to write on the topic covered? Is the author a freelance writer? A practitioner? A scholar?
  • What is the author's point of view (or of the publisher as a whole)? Always check for bias!
  • Who published the material and why are they publishing this information? How recent is the information?
  • Is there a bibliography or references? How many? What kinds of sources did the author(s) consult to write the book?
  • Does the type of information provided meet your research needs?
  • Is the information provided relevant to your topic or research question? How useful is the information for your argument? Does it support your argument or refute it?

Where do I find this information?

If there is a published book review for a book, use that to help you evaluate the source and answer the questions above. However, not all books will have a review. In this case, use the book itself to answer the questions. If you cannot answer all of the questions for a particular book, you may want to choose another book; however, if you can determine the quality and reliability of the book and answer most of the questions, then the book may be a good choice. There is no way to determine if a book is scholarly without evaluating it using the criteria above.

Criteria Suggestions for how to determine whether or not the book meets the criteria


Does it cover your subject?

  • read the book jacket
  • scan table of contents &chapter headings
  • look for topic keywords in the index
  • read Introduction & Preface


Do you need recent information or a current perspective on an old issue? Or do you need an account of an event from the time it actually happened?

  • check the recency of publication date & sources in bibliography


Is the information reliable?

Is the information authoritative?

  • read book jacket
  • look for information about the author in biographical or book review sources
  • check for presence of a bibliography, footnotes, end notes or sources cited in text

Level of difficulty

Is the information written at a level you can understand and use?

Who is the intended audience: the scholar/ specialist or the lay person?

  • look up unfamiliar terms in a dictionary
  • is the vocabulary too technical or scholarly for your purposes?
  • is the vocabulary too elementary for college level research?

Purpose for writing

What is the bias/ perspective of the work?

  • read the Preface & Introduction
  • check the background/ reputation of the author in biographical sources
  • read reviews or other critiques of the book