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Research Process: An Overview: Evaluating Your Sources

This guide outlines the steps in the research process from developing a topic to crediting sources.

Scholarly versus Popular

Periodicals are print sources that are published weekly, monthly or quarterly, such as magazines, newspapers and  journals. Instructors may require a variety of sources or limit sources to scholarly journals.

Scholarly Journals — contain articles written by professionals in the field. The articles may be original research or an extension of previous research, illustrated with graphs, tables and have a list of references at the end. Articles submitted to a scholarly journal are peer-reviewed or juried, meaning other experts read and suggest revisions to the author before the final version is accepted for publication.

Popular magazines — are not in-depth enough to be scholarly. The magazine may have an area of interest. Parenting is devoted to raising children and Time is a news magazine, but the articles are intended as overviews for general readers. Authors may or may not be named, there may be illustrations or charts, but there won't be a bibliography at the end.

Further Reading...

Know Your Sources

Know Your 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.

Evaluating Sources: The Basics

A critical step in the research process is evaluating the information you found.  It is important to select information that comes from a reputable source. Below are questions to ask yourself when evaluating books, magazines and websites.

Publisher — who published or sponsored this work? Are they reputable?

Credentials — who is the author (or authors)? Are qualifications or degrees listed?

Accuracy — can the information be verified in other respected sources?

Currency — is the information’s publishing date current enough for the topic of the research paper? For subject area that change frequently, like medicine, politics or finance, use the most up-to-date information.

Bias — does the author or publisher express an opinion (example: newspaper editorial) or is the information factual (like statistics). Does bias affect the information’s accuracy?

Audience — who is the information written for — a specific readership, level of expertise or age/grade level? Is the audience focus appropriate for a research paper?

Website Evaluation

Because the web is self-published, it requires the most critical analysis before use in a research paper. 

Beyond the basic criteria mentioned for all resources look for additional proof of value in websites. Some hoax sites look very credible until viewed with a critical eye. Look for: 

  • Mission/Vision/Purpose Statement — reveals purpose of the website and point of view. 
  • Credentials — a well-regarded sponsoring organization or an expert author. (Webpage content may not list an individual author.) 
  • Date of last revision — this reveals how recently the content of a website has been reviewed. 
  • Contact information — is there a physical address and telephone number the researcher can use to contact a real person with questions? 
  • Loaded language — words that assign emotional value can be used to manipulate attitude. “Patriot” sounds better than “vigilante,” “insurgency” less scary than “civil war.” 
  • Links — do other reputable websites link to the website and does it link to other reputable sites.