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Selecting sources

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The quality of the information you use in an assignment will relate to the kind of sources you use. Before you use a source in your assignment you will need to do the following:

  1. Make a judgement about the relevance of the source to the topic of the assignment and
  2. Evaluate the source's reliability. Here are some questions which may help you to do this.

    • Who is the intended audience?

      consumers, technicians, academics, etc.
    • What is the purpose of the text?

      To tell - does it present factual information or an opinion?

      To sell - is the information commercially persuasive?
    • Is the source current? Is this important?
    • Is the source trustworthy?
    • Does the source have a particular bias?

Read through the two excerpts below on the topic of scanners and think about how they differ in the way they present the information.

Excerpt A

Affordable flatbed scanners are plentiful - but few stand out from the crowd. Here's one that does: Umax's new Astra 2200, a one-stop scanning solution loaded with advanced features, a dual USB/SCSI-2 interface, and a unique software bundle that features full versions of two popular Web site development tools, NetObjects Fusion 4.0 and Macromedia Fireworks 2.0. The kicker: You get all that for just $249. Considering you'd normally pay as much as $300 and $190 respectively for stand alone versions of Fusion and Fireworks, that makes the Astra a steal. You can find faster, higher quality scanners, but if your small business is building a Web site, the Astra 2200 is definitely worth considering.

Excerpt B

There are three primary types of scanners, flatbed scanners, sheet-fed scanners, and handheld scanners, but all three work similarly and differ only in the way the scan element is moved with respect to the paper. In a flatbed scanner, the paper is placed on a glass window, while the scan element moves down the page, much like a copy machine. In a sheet-fed scanner, a single page of paper is propelled through the mechanism with rollers; the scan element is stationary. Handheld scanners are propelled by the user over the page.

Which excerpt informs the reader by providing predominantly factual information?

Which excerpt persuades the reader by providing evaluative information?

Which excerpt do you think may have been published in a computing magazine?

Which excerpt do you think may have been published in a book?

Check your answers

Who is the intended audience?

Information is usually written for a specific audience - think about the type of reader for whom the information was written. The types of publications you may read in preparation for the first Computer Systems assignment may be written for a consumer interested in purchasing a product, a professional in the field of computer science requiring technical specifications, or an academic interested in current research.

The intended audience of a publication will influence the use of subject-specific terminology, the complexity of the information presented, and the formality of the language used. For example, you would expect information in a publication written for a professional or academic audience to contain highly specialised content and subject-specific terminology. In contrast, you would expect a review of a product in a newspaper or magazine to be written less formally and to require limited subject-specific knowledge.

What is the purpose of the text?

Before you read a text, think about its purpose. Has it been written to persuade the reader to buy a particular product? Is it an advertisement? Or, has the text been written to inform the reader by providing factual information and/or a balanced opinion?

This difference is easier to distinguish in some publications than others. Identifying the purpose of information on an internet site can be difficult, as the writer or publisher may not be clearly identified. You may find it easier to identify the purpose of information published in a book, journal, or magazine.

Is the source current?

When you are deciding to use information for an assignment, ask yourself if it is recent enough for the purposes of your assignment. The first Computer Systems assignment requires you to research recent developments in computer equipment, so the currency of the information you use for this assignment is important. Check how recent the material is by examining the date of publication for books, journals, and magazines, and the date of the most recent update for internet sites. Remember that you will find more up-to-date information in journals, magazines, and internet sites than in books.

Is the source trustworthy?

The authority or reliability of a source depends on the reputation of the source and author. To establish the extent to which you can trust the quality of the information contained in a source consider the following:

  • Is the source published by a recognised body, such as a professional association, international organisation, or respected publisher in the field?
  • Who is responsible for the internet site? A government body (.gov), a nonprofit organisation, an academic institution (.edu), or a commercial body (.com)?
  • Is the source scholarly or popular?
  • Is the identity and status of the author clear? On an internet site this may be more difficult to ascertain.
  • Does the author have appropriate expertise to make the claims being made? Who is the expert - the reviewer and/or the manufacturer of the product?
  • Is the author associated with an institution or organisation?

Does the source have a particular bias?

This in part relates to the purpose of the publication - for example, whether the publication's purpose is to sell a product, to present a particular argument, or to express the views of a particular organisation or institution. Most sources will be subjective to some extent. As a university student, it is important that you think about the possible bias of any sources you are using. Strong bias is often found in sources that use emotive language, have extreme viewpoints, or exclude other viewpoints. To overcome this, try to read sources offering a range of viewpoints to show a depth of research and consideration of all aspects of the assignment topic.


Excerpt A is from an online magazine and is a review of a recently released scanner. The review provides evaluative comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the product, and provides some recommendations in regard to using the scanner and value for money. It is written in an informal, conversational style, for example "Considering you'd normally pay as much as...". An article such as this one would be useful in establishing the current 'state of the art' of scanners and their future development.

Source: Jantz, R. (2000, March 19) "Astra 2200: Web-ready scanner", ( PC World) Available:,1440,13963,00.html (Accessed: 2000, 19 April )

Excerpt B would be a useful introductory text to read in the initial stages of preparing for the assignment as it provides a factual description of several types of scanners. The text is from a recently published book on the topic of hardware and systems software, and is written in a more formal style, typical of the style you are expected to write in at university.

Source: Englander, I. (2000), The Architecture of computer hardware and systems software, John Wiley, New York.

Note: Although many of the sources you read for the first Computer Systems assignment may be written in an informal style such as Excerpt A, you should not use this style of writing as a model for your report. Your lecturer expects you to write the report in a more formal academic style.

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