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Library Research: Evaluating Sources

Evaluating the information that you find

Scholarly vs. Trade vs. Popular Articles

When you are looking for articles in the research databases, it's important to understand that there are different types of journals indexed in every one. Each kind of journal is useful in its own way, but not all of them are considered scholarly, so if your assignment requires peer-reviewed articles, it's important to know the difference!

The three main types of journals are scholarly, trade, and popular magazines.

 

 

Scholarly journals mainly publish articles that describe original research and have an editorial process called peer-review where other experts in the field read the article, provide feedback, and make a recommendation about whether it should be published, or not. Not all articles in a peer-reviewed journal undergo this process, such as editorials and book reviews.


General characteristics of Scholarly Journals

  • Intended for an academic audience
  • Research articles contain an extensive reference list
  • Few to no advertisements
  • Peer-reviewed by experts in the field
  • Authors list their credentials and affiliations

Trade journals are published for members of a specific trade or profession. These articles are usually written by someone knowledgeable in their field, and advertisements are specific to the profession. These journals do NOT undergo a peer-reviewed process.


General characteristics of trade journals:

  • Intended for a professional audience
  • Written by knowledgeable professionals in their field
  • Sometimes articles will have references, but not necessarily
  • Advertisements targeted to a professional audience

Popular magazines are published for a general audience in a variety of areas of interest, such as sports, celebrity, science, or recreational activities.


General characteristics of popular magazines:

  • Popular magazines contain secondary discussion of others work.
  • Articles are written by a staff writer for the general public.
  • Advertisements are very common.
  • Articles don't have references.

Even articles published in reputable journals should be evaluated, because even if the information is correct and credible, it might be out of date for your topic, or not actually relevant to the argument you are making in your paper.

There are several things to consider when evaluating articles, including websites, that will help you to decide if the article is appropriate for your assignment.

 

What is the purpose?

It's important to ask yourself why a particular website or article has been produced. Not all information is created to inform, sometimes it is designed to sell a product, or entertain an audience.

Questions you can ask about an article or website:

  • Who is this article written for?
  • What audience are they trying to reach?
  • Is the argument biased?
  • Are they trying to persuade the reader to accept a particular viewpoint or are they reporting facts?

 

Is it accurate?

It's a good idea to think critically about the information being presented in articles and websites. Not everything you find on the internet or in some journal articles will be accurate. This isn't necessarily due to authors misrepresenting facts, but as research in a field progresses our understanding of the world will change. So information that was accurate 20 years ago, may not be accurate today. 

Questions you can ask about an article or website:

  • Does it fit with your understanding of the topic based on other sources that you've found?
  • Has it been peer-reviewed?
  • Are the claims based on evidence?
  • Does it have a bibliography that indicates where the facts in the article were drawn from

 

Who is the author or publisher?

Thinking about who wrote or published an article is an important part of evaluating its credibility.

Questions you can ask about an article or website:

  • Is the author qualified to write authoritatively on this topic? - They should clearly state their credentials, professional designations, degrees, and organizational affiliations
  • Is the article published by an academic publisher, in a peer-reviewed journal?
  • Watch out for self-published works
  • Is the information on a website from a credible organization? - Governments, educational institutions, research centres

 

Is it relevant to your topic?

Just because an article turns up in your search results,doesn't mean it's appropriate for your paper. It's a good idea to use only articles with direct relevance to your topic that are at an appropriate level for academic work.

Questions you can ask about an article or website:

  • Is the content for a general audience, or an academic one?
  • Is the main subject of the article related to your topic?

 

Is it current?

Depending on your topic, you may need recent information to write a good research paper. Scientific or health topics may require up to date information, while historical topics may not. In most cases it's good to know when an article or website was published so you can evaluate it properly and have enough information for a complete citation. Some information, such as legislation, industrial standards, or building codes, are updated regularly so it's important to make sure you use the most recent version.

Questions you can ask about an article or website:

  • Do I need current information for my topic?
  • When was the information published or updated?
  • Is this the most current version of this information?

Primary Sources

A Primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often empirical studies—research where an experiment was performed or a direct observation was made. The results of empirical studies are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

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