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Evaluating Sources

Once you have found information on your topic, analyzing and evaluating the results of your search can be a challenge. How will you know if you have found the most authoritative, accurate, objective, and up-to-date scholarly information available? Use the Source Evaluation Checklist, a guide to thinking critically about what you find.

Four Types of Periodicals

"How do you distinguish scholarly from nonscholarly periodicals — that is, journals from magazines? Journals and magazines are important sources of up-to-date information in all disciplines. Periodical literature can be grouped into four categories:
  • Scholarly
  • Substantive news or general interest
  • Popular
  • Sensational"

Cornell University Library. (2009). Distinguishing scholarly from non-scholarly periodicals. Introduction to Research. Retrieved May 14, 2009 from,articles,andothermater

Scholarly Articles: Peer-Reviewed or Not?

Scholarly articles are judged according to whether or not they are peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed journals contain articles that have been examined by experts in the field (perhaps on the journal’s editorial board) and evaluated on the quality of their research. This is an entirely different thing from the type of peer review you may perform in your classes (since you and your classmates probably are not generally recognized authorities in any field).

The following are a couple of ways you can tell if a journal is peer-reviewed:

  • If it's online, go to the journal home page and check the "about" page. Often the brief description of the journal you find there will note that it’s peer-reviewed or refereed or will list the editors or editorial board.
  • In some library databases, a feature will automatically limit your search to scholarly or peer-reviewed articles.
  • Go to the database Ulrich's and do a Title (Keyword) search for the journal. If it is peer-reviewed or refereed, the title will have a little umpire shirt symbol next to it.
  • Be careful! A journal can be refereed or peer-reviewed and still have articles in it that are not peer-reviewed. Generally, if the article is an editorial, a brief news item, or a short communication, it will not have been through the full peer-review process. Most databases will let you restrict your search exclusively to articles (and not editorials, conference proceedings, etc.).

Sources: Primary or Secondary?

Sometimes your professor will ask you to consult primary sources on a subject. The characteristics of primary sources vary, depending on the field of investigation, but, in general, the following observations about primary sources are accurate:

  • They can be original, firsthand reports of new research findings, original historical documents or eyewitness accounts of events, or the actual artistic or literary work
  • In the sciences and some social sciences, primary research articles are usually divided into the following sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References

You may also choose to use some secondary sources (summaries or interpretations of original research or events), which can be books (available through the library catalog) or review articles (ones which organize and critically analyze the research others have conducted on a topic). These secondary sources are often useful, easy-to-read summaries of research in an area. Additionally, you can use the references listed at the end of them to find useful primary sources.

Cornell University Library. (2009). Introduction to Research. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from,articles,andothermater