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Evaluate Sources for my research

Research 101 Essential Topics

Evaluate Information Sources for Credibility and Relevance


Key Questions

You decide! Judge if information is credible and make an informed decision about the appropriate use of a source for your research. See the tab "Infographic version" for more criteria.

Credible:

  • What makes the author qualified to write about the topic? (Look at her or his credentials, experience, or organizational affiliations)
  • What is the type of publication in which the source appears? (scholarly journal, magazine, newspaper, trade, blog, etc.)
  • Is the source peer-reviewed by subject experts?
  • What evidence is provided for claims? Are sources cited, and if so, how? 
  • Is the information current for your topic?
  • Is this a source that is persuasive for your audience or would they question its credibility?

Relevant:

  • How does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • How does the source meet the requirements of your assignment?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level? (not too elementary or advanced for your needs)

 Overall Evaluation

  • Drawing on the questions above, to what extent is this a credible source? Why or why not?
  • Is this source appropriate for your purpose? Why or why not?

Download the PDF worksheet:

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Popular vs. Scholarly Articles

Popular vs. Scholarly Articles

When exploring a topic and formulating a research question it is important to consult different types of sources as well as points of view. Use this page to be able to identify types of information sources and distinguish between scholarly and popular sources. Your professor may also require a minimum number of sources and types (e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles) that you need to use in your research assignment. 

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

Popular Periodicals

image of people magazine cover of Prince

Substantive News Periodicals (magazines and newspapers)image of Scientific American magazine

image LA Times

Trade Publications

image of design magazine

Scholarly Journals (also called academic, peer reviewed, or refereed journals)

image of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cover

Purpose:

Entertainment Information about current events and issues Information about current trends and news in professional, business, and industry areas Original research and findings (research articles), reviews of research (review articles), and reviews of scholarly books (book reviews)
Authors: Staff writers, journalists, or freelancers Staff writers, journalists, or freelancers Staff writers, journalists, or freelancers. Sometimes a journalist with subject area expertise. Experts in their field: researchers, practitioners, professors and scholars
Audience: General public General public Practitioners in a field Scholars (professors, researchers, students) knowledgeable about a specific discipline
Level of Review: Editors working for the publication review the articles; these editors are most likely not experts on the topic of the article they are editing. Editors working for the publication review the articles; these editors are most likely not experts on the topic of the article they are editing. Editors working for the trade publication review the articles; these editors are more likely to know about the topic than a magazine or newspaper editor would, but they still are not experts on it. An editorial board made up of other scholars and researchers review the articles. Many, but not all, scholarly articles are peer reviewed. Peer reviewed articles are considered the gold standard of tested information.
What to look for:
  • Glossy color photographs
  • Easy to understand, non-technical writing
  • Substantial advertisements
  • Glossy color photographs
  • Easy to understand, non-technical writing
  • Substantial advertisements
  • Varied article length (e.g. short news blurbs, longer "feature" articles")
  • Lack of formal citations; may refer to studies or sources in the text
  • Glossy color photographs, covers often feature an "industrial" or "trade-specific setting"
  • Includes field-specific terminology
  • Includes industry-related advertising
  • Varied article length (e.g. short news blurbs, longer "feature" articles")
  • May or may not cite sources or include reference lists
  • Long, in-depth articles
  • Data and evidence, e.g. tables, charts, graphs, images (but no advertisements)
  • Specialized or discipline-specific jargon
  • Reference lists and in-text citations
  • Abstract or summary
  • Author affiliations
  • Peer review information: dates of article submission and acceptance (provided in some journals)

See: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Advantages:
  • Easy to understand
  • Timely coverage of popular topics and current events
  • Good sources for topics related to popular culture
  • Easy to understand (Written for non-specialists)
  • Timely coverage of popular topics and current events 
  • Good sources to gather factual information, to get an overview of an issue, and to follow references in the text to original research studies 
  • Timely coverage of industry trends
  • Sometimes contains short bibliographies
  • Shorter articles that are informal and practical
  • Articles are usually evaluated by experts before publication (peer reviewed)
  • Footnotes or bibliographies support research and point to further research on a topic 
  • Authors describe methodology and supply data to support research results
Disadvantages:
  • Authors usually do not cite sources
  • Published to make a profit
  • Articles are selected by editors who may know little about the topic
  • Authors usually do not cite sources
  • Published to make a profit, usually; the line between informing and selling may be blurred
  • Not peer reviewed, though author is usually a professional in the field
  • Use of specialized terminology of the field 
  • Evidence drawn from personal experience or common knowledge but NOT rigorous research
  • Articles often use specialized terminology of the field that can be difficult for non-specialists to read
  • Research and review process takes time; not as useful for current events
 

  

 

What is Peer Review?

The goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. 

Peer Review in 3 Minutes by NCSU Libraries.

BE AWARE: Not everything published in a scholarly journal is a Peer Reviewed Article!  When limiting to "peer-reviewed" the databases are going by the type of journal, and not distinguishing the variety of content in the journal, which typically also contains editorials and book reviews, which are not peer-reviewed.‚Äč

The peer-review and publication process often takes well over one year, so it might be hard to find a peer-reviewed article for a currently emerging topic.

If you are still unsure if it is a peer-reviewed journal, Google the journal's homepage.

Conference Proceedings

Conference Proceedings

Purpose: Inform the scientific/engineering world about a new technology faster than a peer-reviewed or journal article could.
Authorship: Written by the experts in the field that did the research.
Accuracy: Organized by an editorial team. The amount of scrutiny applied to these proceedings varies with the conference; some are read and either accepted or rejected right then, while others go through more vigorous scrutiny via peer-review or some other system before they are released. Editors are allowed to make changes in papers without the permission of the author, although it is not common for them to do so.

Look for:

  • Conference Proceedings are collections of research papers presented at research conferences. 
  • Are not official journal or peer-reviewed articles at this stage of their life, but may soon become that.
  • Uses very field-specific terminology.
  • Often includes graphs and charts to help explain its findings. 

Scholarly Books (Monographs)

Scholarly Books (Monographs)

Purpose: Advance research in the discipline
Authorship: Each author is a scholar or researcher in the field (e.g. a historian). May be one author for the whole book or each chapter may be written by a different scholar.
Accuracy: Published by university presses (such as Stanford, University of California Press, etc.). Manuscripts are reviewed by experts in the field.

Look for:

  • Comprehensive and in-depth treatment of a subject.
  • Discuss and reflect on original research.
  • Refers to original sources of information through extensive footnotes and/or bibliography.
  • Includes field-specific terminology and jargon.
  • Table of Contents and Indexes.

How to Use Sources in Research and Writing

It's also important to think about how you will use the source in your paper, project, or performance.  

Joseph Bizup developed a model called the BEAM model that helps us think about the usefulness of a source in the research and writing process. 

"Writers rely on background sources, interpret or analyze exhibits, engage arguments, and follow methods." (Bizup 2008)

THE BEAM MODEL

BACKGROUND: Using a source to provide general information to explain the topic.

Example: The use of a CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints article on the California drought to explain the severity of California's drought and recent legislation passed to manage water resources.

EXHIBIT: Using a source as evidence or examples to analyze.

Examples: For a literature topic, the short story you are analyzing. For a history topic, newspapers from the period of study. For an art history topic, a painting or photograph you are analyzing. For a political science paper, data from polls or surveys. For a science topic, an experimental study. 

ARGUMENT: Using a source to engage its argument. Most will be scholarly sources written by researchers and scholars. These are the sources you engage in conversation.

Example:  An analysis of recent water usage data and ramifications for California's drought. It is an argument about the exhibit.

METHOD: Using a source's way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue, whether it's to borrow an approach, concept, idea, or method.

Examples: References to critical theories or theorists (e.g., post-colonialism or Edward Said), or research methodologies (e.g., Mixed Methods Research Design).


Citation: Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 February 2014.