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ENG 1320 Library Tutorial: 4. Evaluating Resources

Start Here!

You've got a manageable list of search results, so now you're ready to start evaluating what you've found.

Remember when you checked your assignment to figure out what types of resources you would need? You'll need that information again in order to weed out what doesn't fit.

In this section, you will learn:

  • Why a resource is called "scholarly" or "peer reviewed"
  • How to tell the difference between scholarly, popular, and trade publications
  • What to look for when you evaluate websites

The Big Idea: I'm supposed to find scholarly articles—what are they?

In this video:

  • What does scholarly mean?

  • What is peer review?

  • What is a popular magazine?

  • What is a trade publication?

What is "peer review"?

        "Peer review" is an extra level of editorial scrutiny that some journals include in their publishing process. When an article is submitted for consideration, the editors send it out to the author's "peers," other experts in the same field. Those experts evaluate the article's methodology, ethics, and perceived value to the field as a whole. If it's approved, it gets published.

 

"Peer Review in Five Minutes." YouTube. North Carolina State University Libraries, 8 July 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.

Where can I find peer-reviewed journals?

In many databases, you can refine your search to just peer reviewed results.

           

Look for a checkbox like this one in the sidebar of your results page. The location will be a little different in every database, but it should be easy to find. Ask a librarian if you need help.

 


 

If you have a journal and you need to check if it is peer reviewed, use the Ulrich's Periodical Directory database.

Enter the name of the journal in the search bar, then look for the little referee's jersey icon or the line that says "Refereed: Yes." "Refereed" is just another way of saying "peer reviewed," so if you see either or both of those things, your journal is peer reviewed.

If you don't see the icon or if the description of the journal says "Refereed: No," that journal is not peer reviewed.

Can I use websites in my research?

There are really two ways to interpret this question, but in general, the answer is YES, with a few conditions.

  1. You can use websites for your research IF your assignment says you can. If your instructor has asked specifically for journal articles and/or books, then no, you can't.
  2. Some websites do contain scholarly or other high-quality information that is appropriate for use in an academic assignment. Just like you do with printed material, you will need to evaluate the websites you find to determine if they meet the standards of quality that you need.

How do I evaluate websites?

If you find a website that you think might be useful for your assignment, use this list as an evaluation tool. This is just a starting point—you may find more points to consider as you become more comfortable with evaluating your sources. Some of these points are worth keeping mind as you evaluate articles, too.

Currency

  • When was this article or page published? Has it been updated since then?
  • Has the author written more recent papers on the same subject?
  • Does this article contain statistics or data? Are more current figures available elsewhere?

Relevance

  • Does the information in this article answer your research question?
  • Does the type of article fit the requirements of your assignment?
  • Is this article appropriate for college-level research?

Authority

  • Who wrote the article?
  • Is the author an expert in the field? What credentials does he or she have to suggest that?
  • Can you find any other resources that cite this article?

Accuracy

  • Does the information in the article fit with what you already know about the subject?
  • Does the article contain references or citations to other resources?

Purpose

  • Does the article seem to be objective, or is there any obvious bias or prejudice?
  • Does the author use emotional language?
  • Is the author writing on behalf of any company or political entity?

Other Frequently Asked Questions

This article is really great, but it's not peer reviewed. Can I still use it?

That all depends—what does your assignment say? If your instructor has specifically asked you to find peer-reviewed materials, then no, you can't use that article. Take another look at the Where can I find peer-reviewed journals? box above.

If the assignment calls for scholarly materials, then... maybe. You'll still need to evaluate the article according to the characteristics of a scholarly resource. Watch the Big Idea video again if you need to review those characteristics. If your article checks out, you should be good to go.

If you're still unsure about whether you can use a particular article for your assignment, check with your instructor.



Can I use *whispers* Wikipedia?

Come on, y'all—as a source for your assignment, NO. Why not? Several reasons:

  • It's written for the general public, so it is not a scholarly resource.
  • Anyone can edit entries, so the information is constantly changing and unreliably accurate.
  • Your instructor flat-out DOES NOT want to see it in your works cited list, and you may be looking at an automatic F.

You might use Wikipedia as a reference source for background research on a topic before you start searching through the library's resources, and that's OK. It can give you ideas for keywords and guide you to other, more scholarly resources. However, the library has lots of other reference sources that you can turn to instead of Wikipedia. Take a look at the box on reference materials in the Choosing Keywords section.