Purpose and objectivity of the literature
'The object for which anything is done or made, or for which it exists; the result or effect intended or sought; end, aim'
(Oxford English Dictionary 2007).
Determining the purpose of a given source of literature can be a really good tool for evaluation. The purpose may be apparent from the source type for example, an article published in a peer reviewed journal will have the purpose of advancing knowledge (and the author's career!) in the relevant area. An article written in a newspaper may have the purpose of provoking debate or persuading the reader that a particular viewpoint is correct. Often when considering a book, the author's purpose, in addition to imparting knowledge, may be outlined in the foreword, preface or introduction.
What is the purpose of the literature? Purpose is closely linked to objectivity; for example, if the purpose of the literature is to persuade the reader that a particular viewpoint is correct then how objective is it? For example, if an article advocates a particular piece of scientific equipment as the best to use and it has been written by or sponsored by the company that makes the equipment, then clearly it may not present an objective argument.
If someone is objective they are:
'not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts; impartial, detached'
(Oxford English Dictionary 2006).
- Does the information suggest any kind of bias?
- Are there political, ideological, or other biases?
- What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?
- are the opinions justified based upon the content?
- are the opinions supported by the evidence contained within?
- Who has authored or sponsored the work? Could this be indicative of any bias or is the sponsor independent and impartial?
If you believe that a particular source of literature may be biased, does that mean that you cannot use it in your research? Not necessarily, so long as the lack of objectivity is recognised and accounted for, the information may still prove useful. You should use other material to present a balanced argument in your own work.
A further indicator of objectivity is a wide use of sources for the work: check that the bibliography lists a wide variety of reliable sources.