Look at the author's name. Have you heard of her? Do you know if he is cited in other books on the subject? Has your instructor mentioned the author's name? Is she affiliated with a university? Does he acknowledge an organizaitonal affiliation?
Most of these questions can be answered by looking at the acknowledgements and preface of books. But you may need to do some basic research in order to find out more about an author.
The questions you will ask about the publisher are similar to those asked about the author. Look in the first few pages of the book for the copyright and publisher information.
Did a university press publish the text? Did a popular press publish it? You can be relatively sure that if a university press published the book, it has been held to a high academic standard.
Popular presses differ in their standards. You may have to look at other aspects of the book or look at other books produced by the same publisher to judge the credibility of the text.
Remember, you are not looking for ways to exclude works. Rather, you are trying to understand the context in which the book was written so you can better analyze its content.
If you are researching a current issue, it stands to reason that you want the most up-to-date sources you can find. If your topic is not so current, it is often acceptable to go back ten or even twenty years for your sources.
If there is a more recent book on the same topic, make sure that you look at it. Maybe the author found new evidence that drastically alters the argument of the first book.
The age of a work can be easy to determine, but it is sometimes tricky. The page that has all the publisher’s information has a copyright date. Has the work been translated? If so, that date is probably the date of the translation. Is there more than one date listed on the page? In that case, you probably have a newer edition that may have new information added.
It may happen that you come up with a topic and go to the library to find sources. You sit down with ten books and put all ten books through the critical analysis steps outlined above, and only one fits all your criteria.
What do you do now? Look at the footnotes and bibliography.
Note titles that the author relies on or refers to as pillars of the discipline. Then look up those book or articles in the library catalog and begin the critical analysis process all over again.
Following the trail from one book or article to others can lead to an understanding of the entire structure of the literature on a particular topic.