Evaluating Sources

A Research Strategy:  The research process involves the knowledgeable use of the information, facts, and ideas that you discover as you explore books, articles, websites, and sources such as statistics. Learning how to evaluate the information you locate is a critical step in the research process. However, it is not only critical that you evaluate the information you find, it is also important that you carefully choose appropriate databases for searching. This means that as a researcher you will be thinking first about which databases will best serve your information needs.

What type of information is needed? Before you select databases or search the internet, you can consider what type of information you need for your research.  Will you need scholarly articles or articles from the popular press?

Articles from the popular press: To obtain information from newsstand type magazines, you would use an index such as LexisNexis, Academic Search Premier or Academic OneFile. Using one of these indexes, you will find articles in magazines such as Newsweek, the New Republic, or Sports Illustrated. These articles are generally written by news reporters or authors who are paid to write stories and feature articles. Many of the articles in these magazines are opinionated and may be based on observations of an event or personal interviews, and not necessarily based on research or the in-depth knowledge of the author.

Magazine articles from the Lexis Nexis database may be appropriate for you to read before writing an opinionated essay or informal speech but not appropriate if you are expected to write an informative research paper which demonstrates your scholarly reading and in-depth understanding of a specific topic or research question.

Scholarly Research: For some research projects you may need to locate and select scholarly articles which are published in reviewed, peer reviewed, or refereed journals.  These types of scholarly publications publish articles written by scholars, professors, or other experts in a praticular field of study; the articles are generally lengthy, in-depth, and include a bibliography, list of references, or endnotes.  The author's credentials will most likely be posted and the language of the article will be technical and scholarly.

Scholarly Databases: While databases such as Academic OneFile and Academic Search Premier include a mixture of newsstand and scholarly publications, there are other databases which index primarily scholarly literature.  To initiate a search of scholarly journal literature, select a database such as ERIC, EconLIT, MLA, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, Project Muse or JSTOR.  ERIC is a database for accessing educational journal literature.  Likewise, PsycINFO, EconLIT, MEDLINE, and the MLA literature database index scholarly journals, books, conference proceedings, and dissertations in other subject areas.  JSTOR and Project Muse contain full text for many different disciplines and subject areas.  Most of the materials indexed in these databases have been written by scholars, physicians, educators, or subject specialists.  In addition to research based articles and books, you will also find book reviews, letters to the editor, and sometimes opinionated essays.

Although scholarly literature is generally published by highly respectable individuals and organizations, the responsibility for selecting and evaluating the content of any document remains with you as the researcher.

Currency: When was the article, book, video, or Internet source written or produced.  Does your research topic require current sources of information or historical primary sources?

Relevance: Does the source you have located address your specific topic or research question? Is the coverage of the material too general to be of use to you?

Authority: To determine the authority of the source, ask yourself who is the author of the article--is the individual a reporter, another student, an educator, a researcher, a scholar, a subject specialist?  Look for information about the author or explore the authority of the source with your professor or a librarian.

Accuracy: Compare the article or book to other sources that you have located on your topic. Does the information seem credible? How does it compare to other readings on your subject?  Who is taking responsibility for the information provided?  Has the information been published by a credible source?

Purpose: Is the material written from a biased point of view?  Has the document been written to persuade or to inform?

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