Is this information out of date?

As the world opens up for international travel again, many of us are desperate to get away for a well -earned break. But if you were heading off to Paris, would you be happy using a travel guide written in 1886? It might mean that you’re missing something rather important

Black and white illustration of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

When we reference sources in our academic work, it’s just as important to think about how old that book, article or web page is, and what that could mean about the ideas written in it.

Things can be be written too early…

For example, if I’m writing about funding for residential care in England, and I use a book written in 2002, then the author wouldn’t be able to anticipate, or write about, the challenges of personal budgets and direct payments which began being introduced in England in 2008. By not writing about these more recent developments, I risk getting a poor mark, or failing the assignment.

If you’re not sure how to use LibrarySearch to find the newest resources, then we’ve written about that elsewhere on our blog.

… but also too late!

So, should we always set a date limit on our book or database searches so that we only find information written in the last ten years? If only it was that simple!

Sometimes an older source is just as valuable, if not more valuable to us than a newer one. If I’m writing about attachment theory and limit myself to only 21st century sources, then (although I’d still read a lot of other people’s opinions about his work and quotes from his work) I’ll never read an original book or article written by one of the key theorists, John Bowlby, who died in 1990.

Dates for webpages and PDFs

If you’re reading online, sometimes it can be really difficult to identify when a webpage or a downloaded PDF document was written. If you really don’t know how old something is, then maybe think twice before including it in your work. It could also be updated and change radically tomorrow, so – if your referencing style recommends it – always remember to include an accessed date alongside the item in your reference list. That way, your reader knows when the information you read was in that location.

Is this date OK?

How do you know if the date of your source is ok? Well, you can always get a better idea of whether things have changed, or are changing, over time by reading several different sources and not relying on just one. After all, if you did book that much needed break away at an all-inclusive resort on a tropical island, just because they serve only all you can eat pizza at their restaurant, it wouldn’t mean that the only cuisine available on the island was pizza. You’d need to explore further to find the five star Michelin restaurant on the other side of the island, or to eat food at the local street market. Only then could you come home refreshed and relaxed and an expert on the regional cuisine. 

Learning more

Remember, if you’re struggling to find and use good sources when you write your next assignment, your academic liaison librarian is always here to help. 

We’re writing a series of blog posts encouraging you to ask questions about what you read. If you’ve found this one useful, do have a look at the others in the series.

–Vicki Farmilo, Academic Liaison Librarian

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