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Evaluating Sources

How to Detemine the Scope of Coverage

Coverage and scope describe how much of a subject is discussed, or "covered" by the source. It is usually described in terms of breadth and depth. It goes from broad to narrow and from superficial to in-depth.

  • Encyclopedias tend to be broad in scope and shallow in coverage. They cover many different  topics with overviews. They will send you to other sources to get more detailed knowledge.
  • Newspapers, such as the New York Times, are usually broad in scope. The depth of their coverage varies, from quick news items to long-form investigative reporting.
  • Scholarly articles tend to be narrow in scope and deep in coverage. It may be a long, detailed analysis about one aspect of a topic.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about the source:

  • How much of a subject is covered? Look at the time period covered, geographic areas, issues, people.
  • How in-depth is this source? How much detail does it go into?
  • How many topics are discussed in the source? 
  • Are many sides of the topic covered?
  • Is there evidence to back up the arguments?
  • Is the coverage adequate? Is the information provided central to your topic or does the source just touch upon your topic?
  • What is the length of the source - in words, pages, minutes, hours, etc.?
  • Are references to additional sources provided?

Be sure the source has the kind of coverage of the topic that you want before you decide to use it.

Examples

Say you are looking for information about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1960s. Here are some possible sources:

Depending on your topic, assignment, or design brief, any of these sources might be of use to you. For instance, the Montgomery news item above is brief, but it contextualizes the importance of the event covered.

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