Is the work applicable to your study?
The first place to look for answers is the table of contents. A book can have a great title but then can be full of tangential ideas or take an approach that simply may not add to your study.
The next place to check out is the index. The index is a wonderful resource for researchers. You can use it to quickly jump to particular passages if your topic is well defined.
Often you can learn most of what a book can tell you by reading the preface and the introduction and scanning the table of contents and index.
Analyzing the argument gets to the heart of a critical approach to your sources. Here are some tips and techniques you can learn to make it a lot easier:
An analysis of the audience can tell you a lot about how much authority a book or article can claim. Most of what you uncovered in your analysis of the text will inform your judgment of the intended audience. You can find out more by looking at how the book is written and what type of format it is written in.
Is the work full of technical terms or graphs? Then the audience may be academic. Is the language very simple with lots of pictures? Then the audience may be a younger crowd, or the book may be intended for light reading.
The tone of a book is how the author represents himself or herself through language. Most academic authors try to appear impartial in their writing by always writing in the third person and staying away from loaded adjectives. Here are some questions you can ask about the author’s tone:
After analyzing the text, you may find some bias. That does not mean you should discard it.
For example, perhaps the author thanks an anti-homosexual religious organization for funding his research on same-sex marriages. You may be tempted to toss the book aside because you feel that a biased work will not provide the ‘facts.’ But you may be missing out on some good evidence.
No secondary work is going to give you the ‘facts.’ Secondary sources provide interpretations of primary data. Every interpretation is influenced by the author’s context. Find out where the author is coming from and use the evidence accordingly.
For example, the book about same-sex marriages funded by the Southern Baptist Convention may provide a clear presentation of the conservative side of the issue. Paired with a book that provides a liberal interpretation, the conservative book may provide valuable information about the various positions within the discussion.