Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask & Strategies for Getting the Answers:
EXERCISE: For the reference you found, answer the questions on this evaluation checklist. Beside the first question, these work for print as well as web resources.
- Authority: Can you identify the author or creator? What are the author's credentials (educational background, past writing, experience) in this area?
- Currency: Is the source current or out of date for your topic? Can you even find a date of publication or last update?
- Purpose: What is the purpose or motive for the publication/site? (e.g., educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional) Is it trying to sell you something?
- Bias: would you say the information is fact, opinion, or propaganda? In other words, what's the bias? Is the author's point of view objective and impartial?
- Accuracy of Details: Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched? Are sources listed in a bibliography or included in links to the documents themselves? Are the sources themselves authoritative?
Is It A Review Article or Primary Research Article?
Review or Primary Research?
Scientific and quantitative research articles are written differently than articles in the social sciences and humanities. For starters, scientific journals tend to publish a mix of review articles, news, letters or short communications, opinion/editorials, and original research. News sources often report on primary (original) studies in easily understood language but you should always look up the primary article to see if the reporting is accurate! Review articles are summaries of original research that tend to be easier for lay people to approach.
PRIMARY RESEARCH articles tend to follow a pretty standard layout, consisting of:
1. Original research (includes the data)
2. Usually reported in the following sections:
- Scholarly: Articles based on research that are often written by and for scholars.
- Empirical: Scholarly articles based on direct experimentation or observation
- Reviews: Scholarly articles based on the published experiments or observations of others
- Peer-reviewed: Scholarly articles that have been vetted and reviewed by several prominent scholars in the field prior to publication in a journal or book. Can be empirical or review.
- Popular: Articles, books and chapters written by journalists or other professionals for the general audience (e.g, news articles)
Analyze and evaluate your search results. Have you found the most authoritative, accurate, objective, up-to-date, scholarly information available on your research topic?
Know your sources: a guide to understanding sources
When doing research you will come across a lot of information from different types of sources. How do you decide which source to use? From tweets to newspaper articles, this tool provides a brief description of each and breaks down 6 factors of what to consider when selecting a source.
- How to Critically Analyze Information Sources lists some of the critical questions you should ask when you consider the appropriateness of a particular book, article, media resource, or Web site for your research.
- Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals: A Checklist of Criteria shows how to evaluate periodicals by looking at their format, intended audience, and appearance.
See Evaluating Resources for additional information.
Is It Peer-Reviewed & How Can I Tell?
What's peer review and why should you care? Check out this Peer Review in 5 Minutes video.
There are a couple of ways you can tell if a journal is peer-reviewed:
- If it's online, go to the journal home page and check under About This Journal. Often the brief description of the journal will note that it is peer-reviewed or refereed or will list the Editors or Editorial Board.
- Go to the database Ulrich's and do a Title Keyword search for the journal. If it is peer-reviewed or refereed, the title will have a little umpire shirt symbol by it.
- BE CAREFUL! A journal can be refereed/peer-reviewed and still have non-peer reviewed articles in it. Generally if the article is an editorial, brief news item or short communication, it's not been through the full peer-review process. Databases like Web of Knowledge will let you restrict your search only to articles (and not editorials, conference proceedings, etc).
What exactly does it mean to plagiarize? According to the American Heritage Dicitonary, to plagiarize is to "reproduce or otherwise use (the words, ideas, or other work of another) as one's own or without attribution."
So, obviously it's not OK to copy word-for-word the work of another without proper citation. Take a look at Cornell's Guide to Academic Integrity (esp. pages 16-28) for some more examples that might be harder to spot. Here are a few:
- The Mosaic: lifting multiple phrases or sentences out of the original text and rearranging them in new patterns
- The Paraphrase: substituting approximately equivalent terms to represent ideas from another author
- The "Apt" Term: lifting and reusing unique terms or expressions from other authors