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Evaluate Your Sources

EvaluateThere are five important concepts to consider when evaluating your sources--relevance, authority, accuracy, currency, and objectivity.

Relevance is one of the most important concepts for evaluation, since your sources should be directly related to your topic, not just somewhat related. Does the source specifically address your research topic?  

Authority refers to the author or publisher of your source. Are they considered an expert? What are their qualifications to be writing on the topic?

Accuracy is the ability to confirm the information in your source is correct. Does the source have references? From your knowledge of the topic, does the information track with other information you've found?  

Currency is about the date of publication and its importance to your topic. Do you need the most recent information available or does an older source make sense? Did an event or a change in laws or policy occur that impacts your topic?  

Objectivity refers to the point of view presented in a source. What is the purpose of the source? Are they trying to sell you something, persuade you in some way, or inform you?

Identify Popular and Scholarly Sources

Understanding the different types of articles will help you know what to search for and evaluate the sources you do find.

Sources are developed for a range of audiences and serve various purposes. Some of the common sources you might find when searching library databases include scholarly, popular, and trade articles.  

Example of scholarly source: Food, Culture & SocietyScholarly source characteristics:

  • Written by scholars for other scholars in the same field
  • Contains in-depth information and often describes original findings from a study
  • Uses terminology specific to the field
  • Peer reviewed by other experts in the field to help ensure credibility
  • Includes a lengthy reference list with many sources

Examples: Behavior Modification, Journal of Family Psychology, Advances in Applied Mathematics

Example of popular source: The AtlanticPopular source characteristics:

  • Written by journalists for the general public
  • Contains news, entertainment, or general information
  • Uses language that is easily understood by most readers
  • Reviewed by editorial staff before publication
  • Does not cite sources

Examples: The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, The Economist

Example of trade source: Psychiatric NewsTrade publication characteristics:

  • Written by professionals for other professionals who work in the same field
  • Contains industry- or profession-specific trends, recommendations, and insight
  • Uses terminology or jargon specific to the industry or profession
  • Reviewed by publication staff
  • May cite a small number of sources

Examples: American Nurse Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Law Enforcement Technology

Books are another common type of source used in research.  Not all books are considered scholarly and though books that are not scholarly can be used in research, it is important to know the difference between popular and scholarly books so that you can make informed choices.  

Scholarly books:Example of scholarly book, The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harrassment and Other Macroaggressions

  • Are published by such publishers as Sage, Routledge, University of Colorado Press, MIT Press, or other university presses.  You can determine the publisher by looking on the title page or copyright page of the book.  
  • Are by authors who have done extensive research in the field, often work for universities or colleges, or may have a PhD or other higher education credential in the subject area.  Books usually have a brief author biography where you can find information about them.  
  • Are written to focus on a narrow aspect of a topic, report on the findings of research, and often use more specialized language.  

Popular books:

Example of popular book, Seen & Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice
  • Are published by such publishers as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, St. Martin's Press, Hachette, Macmillan, and others.  
  • Are by authors who may be journalists or professional writers and have not necessarily conducted extensive original research in the subject area. The brief author biography will provide information about them.  
  • Are written to entertain, persuade, share personal experiences, or give a broad overview of a topic.  These books are written for a general audience and use language that people can easily understand.