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Help!: Evaluating Sources

Tips for doing library research, identifying types of resources, citing those resources, and links to other library catalogs.

Evaluating Sources

Whether you find information on the Web or in a library database, understanding more about the source helps you to evaluate whether or how to use that information in your research project.  Personal opinion articles are widespread on the Web but also found in print magazines (now often retrieved in full-text from library databases).  What's a news article and what is a research article?  In the boxes below you will find tips on how to evaluate websites and how to determine what kind of magazine or journal article you have.  ...and, as always, if you have questions, ask your professor or one of the reference librarians.

Evaluating Web Pages

Here are some things you should look for when you are considering using a website as a source for a research paper.

Who wrote/put up the website?  If it is an individual, can you identify the author?  Do they have any credentials (like a degree or extensive work experience) in an area related to the topic?  If you can't find this information or the person doesn't have appropriate credentials, you shouldn't use the website. Remember that not knowing who put up the information is a major reason that professors don't want you to use Wikipedia as a source.

If the website is sponsored by an organization, look for an about/information page.  Any trustworthy organization should provide information about their organization, its purpose and activities, and the people who run the organization.  Just because a website is a .org doesn't mean that the organization is a reputable one.

Is the website kept up-to-date? Websites that have been abandoned and are no longer updated can still get a high ranking on a web search.  Always look to see if there is a last updated date given or a copyright date.  A lot of broken links is also a sign that a website is no longer being maintained.

Is the content appropriate to college-level research?  For many general topics, Google and other search engines will return a lot of hits for sites aimed at children.  While informative, they are usually highly edited to keep out content that isn't appropriate for kids and do not have the type of sophisticated analysis that you need for your research.  You may need to trace a page back to its home site to figure out who the intended audience is.

Does the site tell you where its information has come from? This issue is closely related to the issue of appropriate content.  When you write your research paper, your professor expects you to cite your sources whenever you are using another person's words, thoughts, facts, figures, or statistics.  A good website should also do this.

Is the website biased? Actually, this is a question you should ask of ANY source, not just online ones.  Many sources have a bias, rather than trying to portray both sides of an issue evenly.  This doesn't mean that you can't use a biased source.  You just need to realize which side of an issue each source is on and also find sources that represent the other side.

Videos on evaluating websites

Evaluating Websites

Wikipedia

  • Wikipedia:  Beneath the Surface  Explains how Wikipedia works, highlighting both its strengths and weaknesses.  From NCSU Libraries.

Types of Periodicals

Videos on Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

•  Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals : A 3 minute video from Vanderbilt University's Peabody Library

•  Peer Review in 5 Minutes : From North Carolina State University Libraries

 

Scholarly & Research Journals

Professional, Trade &
Industry Journals

Journals of Commentary & Opinion

Newspapers

Popular Magazines

Examples

African American Review

Sociology of Education

Plasma Physics

Shakespeare Quarterly

RN

Science Teacher

Ceramics Monthly

American Libraries

Mother Jones

National Review

Christian Century

New Republic

New York Times

Washington Post

Christian Science Monitor

Wall Street Journal

Time

Newsweek

Ebony

Business Week

Purposes

Original research;

In depth analysis of issues related to the discipline; Academic level book reviews; Refereed or peer-reviewed

Current trends, news & products in a field; Company, organization, & biographical information; Statistics, forecasts; Employment & career information;

Book and product reviews

Commentaries on social & political issues; Some in-depth analysis; Political viewpoints, liberal, conservative & other; Sometimes acts as voice of activist organizations; Speeches & interviews; Book reviews

Current information; Hard news; Local and regional information; Classified ads; Editorials; Speeches; Book reviews; Primary source for information on events

Current events; Hot topics;  Primary source for analysis of popular culture; Short articles; Generally not much depth; Interviews

Language

Academic; Uses  often technical language of the discipline

Written for practitioners; May use technical language

Written for a general educated audience

Written for a general audience

Non-technical language

Authors

Researchers, academics, professors, scholars, etc.

Practitioners in the field or journalists with subject expertise

Varies widely; Can be academics, journalists, representatives of various “groups”

Journalists

Generally, journalists and freelance writers

Sources

Footnotes & bibliographies; Usually extensive documentation

Occasional brief bibliographies; Sources sometimes cited in text

Occasionally cite sources in text or  provide short  bibliographies

Rarely cite any sources in full

Rarely cite any sources

Publisher

Universities, scholarly presses or academic/research organizations

Commercial publishers or professional and trade associations

Commercial publishers  or non-profit organizations

Commercial publishers

Commercial publishers

Graphics

Graphs, charts, formulas, depending on the discipline; No glossy advertisements

Photographs, charts, tables, illustrations; Sometimes glossy ads

Wide variety of appearances; Some very plain, others lots of gloss

Pictures, charts, ads of all sorts

Very glossy; Full of color ads

Example Indexes to Search 

 

JSTOR; EBSCOhost (use discpline-specific databases & peer-reviewed option); Biological Abstracts

ERIC; SPORTDiscus (via EBSCOhost), Business Source Premier (via EBSCOhost), PAIS

Academic Search Premier (via EBSCOhost)

Academic Universe, Newspaper Source (via EBSCOhost,) individual newspaper indexes

Academic Search Premier (via EBSCOhost), Reader’s Guide

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