Critical assessment in 50 words
Critical assessment is a vital research exercise which involves examining and evaluating resources. To achieve this, a researcher must analyse source credibility and suitability, considering such qualities as origin, context, author bias and curator influence. These values may change over time, so this exercise should be considered a living process.
Critical assessment: case studies
Case study 1: Personal context – constructing a music review
One of my pastimes involves writing about music. This implies in-depth knowledge of the subject, yet regularly involves critical assessment of resources for trustworthiness. In a complex landscape with multiple voices there are known values, such as facts and figures, to consider as well as less tangible values, such as peer opinions and community influence. Reliance on a single source can lead to duplication of misinformation or disinformation so, to create a valuable piece of work, multiple sources must be examined and evaluated. One disheartening issue I have discovered, above all others, is that no matter how diligent my critical process, once an article is published, a large proportion of my findings can flux in value and may render my article seemingly misleading or misguided.
Case study 2: Professional context – manning an online answering helpdesk
As well as being a knowledge database, Cambridge University Libraries’ LibAnswers is a helpdesk and being part of the team requires me to analyse questions that come in based on a series of criteria. Is the question one I can answer? Do I need more information? Is the question relevant to a particular library service or resource? Which library is responsible for that service or resource? Often this question examination will involve critical assessment of the resources I find. Are the facts I find relevant and reliable? Are they correct and current? Do I need to contact the source directly? Should I cross-check with another source? Would I be best passing the question on to another team member and which member of the team has the most expertise in the subject area?
Case study thoughts
The two case studies I have presented here have similar themes where continued critical assessment of a subject’s sources can create a clearer understanding of its authorities, identification of bias and the trustworthiness of each source. It proves that the process can allow one to become gradually more fluent in a subject area. Experience teaches me that this can help build confidence around a subject. Similarly, critical neglect or over-reliance on a single source or past practice can lead to disheartening knowledge gaps.