Skip to Main Content

Evaluating Sources: Selecting the Right Source

Unlike online databases, information retrieved using search engines has not been evaluated by librarians. Use these tips, tricks, and strategies to see if the site you are using is credible.

Which one is right?

Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Books & WWW Resources

It is important to think critically about possible sources of information for a paper or project. Who has written the item? Why? What would be credible to a professor or colleague? There are many other questions to consider when doing research.

Many students are particularly confused about when it is appropriate to use newspaper articles, magazine articles, journal articles or books for their papers. And what about World Wide Web resources?

When to use a Journal

Example: American Political Science Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, American Sociological Review, Journal of Psychology Audience: Scholars, specialists, and students
Coverage: Research results, frequently theoretical in nature
Written By: Specialists in the field; usually scholars with PhDs
Timeliness: Current coverage (6 months - 3 years )
Length: >2,500 - 10,000 words
Content: Detailed examination; statistical analysis; graphics; bibliography usually included
Slant: Supposed to present objective/neutral viewpoint; may be difficult to comprehend because of technical language or jargon; often sponsored by professional associations

Try a journal for:

  • Case studies of children growing up in single-parent homes.
  • Comparison study of economic stability in single-father versus single-mother homes.
  • Psychological analysis of children who experience bitter custody battles.

When to use a Book

Example: College Calculus with Analytic geometry, Wealth Without Risk, DOS for Dummies, Closing of the American Mind Audience: Ranges from the general public to specialists
Coverage: In-depth coverage of a topic; compilation of scholarly articles on a topic
Written By: Specialists/scholars
Timeliness: Currency varies (2 years plus)
Length: 150 pages plus
Content: varies from general discussion to detailed analysis; usually includes extensive bibliography
Slant: Perspective entirely dependent on author; may be sponsored or published by professional associations

Try a book for:

  • A history of family structure in the United States.
  • A long-term study of single-parent families in Sweden.
  • A children's book written to help them cope with divorce

When to use a Website

Example: Welcome to the Whitehouse; Scholarly Societies Project; Ladies Against Women Audience: General public; children to senior citizens; knowledgeable layperson; scholars; anyone
Coverage: Popular topics; personal information; current affairs; government information; research; scholarly information; fun and games; and more...
Written By: Anyone: professional journalists; children; teenagers (high school students); members of general public; scholars and researchers; poets and writers of fiction; essayists; college students; advocates and activists; and more...
Timeliness: Varies wildly: may be very current coverage or very out-of-date information, or undated.
Length: Can vary greatly.
Content: Anything: general discussion; editorial opinion; graphics; photographs; advertisements; statistical analysis; detailed analysis; fact; fiction; fraud; and more...
Slant: Depends: May reflect the editorial bias / slant of the web page creator; may be objective or neutral; may be geared for academic or professional audiences; may be unsupported personal opinion, who knows????

Try a web resource for:

  • reviewing legislation on family issues
  • finding research or other information about single parent families
  • locating listservs and newsgroups for single parents

When to use a Magazine

Try a magazine for:

  • A cover story on the state of marriage in the US
  • An opinion essay on latchkey children.
  • Profiles and rankings of Fortune 500 companies with the best childcare programs and benefits.

When to use a Newspaper

Example: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, La Opinion. Audience: General public
Coverage: Any subject of interest; newsworthy events; local coverage
Written By: Professional journalists; some articles contributed by specialists
Timeliness: up-to-date coverage (one-half day to a week)
Length: 50-2,000 words
Content: Dependent upon the type of article: analysis, statistics, graphics, photographs, editorial opinion; no bibliography or list of sources
Slant: Tends to be mainstream/neutral

Try a newspaper for:

  • Local statistical information, such as the number of children growing up in single- parent homes in Los Angeles, or the divorce rate in New York.
  • Local coverage, such as information on how the Los Angeles City Council has addressed the issue of welfare for single women with children.
  • A recent story about single parents with AIDS.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Fernando Gonzalez
600 West Walnut Street