Critically evaluating all the evidence and sources that you use is a fundamental aspect of all research. You must understand the difference between primary and secondary sources and their uses. You must also know how to distinguish between popular, trade and scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Once you can do that, just because you found something on the Internet or in a popular source doesn't necessarily mean it can't be used for scholarly research - use the CRAAP test to determine if it is credible and relevant. Just because something was published in a peer-reviewed journal doesn't mean you can't find its weaknesses - deconstruct journal articles to read them critically. Watch this video on evaluating sources and then explore the other tabs on this page to learn more.
You will likely see four different types of information when doing research for your classes:
Popular: Popular articles are typically published in magazines that are for sale in bookstores or supermarket newsstands or, when online, on webpages, blogs or social media. They are written and published quickly by people with little or no expertise or credentials.They rarely contain specialized vocabulary or intent to empirically prove their claims. They are usually not suitable sources for scholarly research, but depending on the context of their use, they might be.
Trade: Trade articles are written by people who are experienced (often very experienced) in their field of employment. They are written for other members of that profession. They often contain specialized vocabulary, appropriate for members of the profession in question. But these articles are written and published quickly in magazines that are sold in popular outlets. They are often not peer-reviewed (see below) and their authors normally do not empirically prove their statements with evidence. Like popular sources, trade articles are usually not suitable sources for scholarly research.
Scholarly: Scholarly materials are written by experts with credentials in their field, typically Ph.D.'s, J.D.'s or M.D.'s. The content and claims in scholarly articles are always supported by primary sources, such as experiments (in the sciences) or diaries (in the humanities). They also often contain detailed analysis of related, previously published secondary sources. These primary and secondary sources are cited in footnotes and a bibliography. A scholarly article is written slowly and requires much research. It is normally published in a journal. Journals are typically only available in universities and libraries.
Peer-reviewed: A peer-reviewed article is a scholarly article that has been evaluated and judged meritorious by other experts in the field. The author of the article submits it for publication and the experts read and evaluate its methodology, analysis and conclusions. Peer review is the most reliable form of scholarship. Journals that contain articles that are evaluated by a board of expert editors are called peer-reviewed journals.
How to Identify Different Types of Periodicals at a Glance
|Color covers||Plain cover, plain paper (most often)|
|Glossy papers||Glossy papers||(Science journals may be glossy)|
|Articles on current events||Articles on industry trends||Primary research, theories, methodologies|
|General interest||Written for members of specific industry||Written for researchers & professionals|
|Short articles||Short articles||Lengthy, in-depth articles|
|Informal tone||Informal tone||Formal and serious tone|
|Easy to read vocabularies||Professional jargons, more difficult to read|
|Written by general staff||Written by staff or experts in the field||Written by experts in the field & researchers|
|Reviewed by general editor||Peer review* by subject experts|
|No bibliographies or footnotes||Short or no bibliographies||Extensive bibliographies & references|
|Usually called a "magazine"||Referred to as a "journal"; may have "journal" in its name|
Your instructor may specify that you should use primary (and/or secondary) sources in your research. What does this mean?
|For the humanities, primary sources are contemporary accounts of an event written by someone who experienced or witnessed it.||For the physical and social sciences, primary sources may be original research or discoveries.|
|Primary source may include:
Primary sources may include:
Secondary sources interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events or results reported in primary sources.
|In the humanities, examples of secondary sources include:||In the physical and social sciences, examples of secondary sources include:|
Use the following tips to find primary sources for your humanity classes:
Books from the time period you are researching: Search the library catalog by topic and limit by date of publication.
Memoirs, letters, interviews, autobiographies, diaries: Search the library catalogs for the name of an individual as an author (last name, first). If you do not have the name of an individual, search the catalog by subject and add the appropriate subject terms to the subject heading: Correspondence, Diaries, Interviews, Personal narratives. (For Example: subject keywords might be: japanese americans interviews). Ask for assistance finding bibliographies and other reference tools that might help you find other materials.
Magazine or journal articles from the time period you are writing about: Use an article database (such as Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, or Historical Abstracts) to find the citations (title, author, name of the periodical, date, volume, page numbers of relevant articles, or search to find the library location of the periodical title. Our periodicals are housed downstairs, in our spacesaver shelving.
Newspaper articles from the time period you are researching-for a particular event or date: Use a newspaper database to locate the citations (title, author, name of the newspaper, date, volume, page numbers) of relevant articles. You can limit by time period, as well as by subject or keyword. If you need to determine the dates of events before you search the newspaper database, use a reference material , secondary source or the New York Times Database.
Specific newspaper or magazine title: Search Lexis-Nexis by magazine or newspaper title.
Records of or materials published by an organization: Search library catalog, or WorldCat, by the name of the organization as author.
Records of government agencies: Search the library catalog, or Worldcat, by the name of the government agency as organizational author.
Speeches: Search the library catalog by names of authors. Search the library catalog by subject keywords: -speeches indexes to find reference books that list individual speeches.
Photographs: Search the library catalog by the additional subject terms-photographs or -pictorial works. For example: world war 1939-1945 pictorial works. Search library catalog by names of persons or topics as subject keywords. Search an appropriate image database.
Cartoons: To find books that discuss and reproduce cartoons from a specific time period, search library catalogs by subject and add the subject terms -caricatures and cartoons For example: -Spanish-American war caricatures and cartoons. Search an article database that includes Historical Newspapers, such as the Historical New York Times database.
Identifying Primary Sources in your Library: Pair the appropriate subject heading with additional subject terms to identify materials as primary sources. Some of these terms are: -correspondence, -diaries, -early works to 1800, -interviews, -pamphlets, -periodicals, -personal narratives, -sources. These subject terms will give you a good start on finding primary documents. For example: -student movements japan history sources or -france revolution correspondence
To determine if a source that you have found is a good source, use the CRAAP test:
When using the CRAAP test you will consider the following:
Currency: the timeliness of the information
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
Authority: the source of the information
examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
Purpose: the reason the information exists
Read the abstract first It covers basics of the article. Questions to consider:
Read the introduction and discussion/conclusion. These sections offer the main argument and hypothesis of the article.
Questions to consider for the introduction:
Questions for the discussion and conclusion:
Read the literature review. In the literature review you will find the background and context for the current study. Questions to consider for the literature review:
Read the Methods/Methodology section. If what you've read addresses your research question, this should be your next section. Questions to consider:
Read the Results and Analysis. Now read the details of this research. What did the researchers learn? If graphs and statistics are confusing, focus on the explanations around them. Questions to consider:
If you got this far, read the entire article again in order. Reading the article twice will ensure that you have a full understanding of the article and the author's message. While re-reading, ask yourself: