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UNST 107A & 109 Portland FRINQ - Batchelder and Knepler: Evaluate Sources

Things to Look for in Your Results List

Here is a list of things you should look for in your results list to determine whether a resource is relevant to your research needs.

1. What is it about? The title will be your first immediate clue. You can usually tell from the abstract, or summary of the article whether an article is related to the topic. If there is not an abstract, read the introduction of the article, then scan the article headings.

2. What is the subject area focus? Knowing the discipline of an article is an important clue in determining relevance. You may be able to tell from the title of the book/article or the journal title. If you are researching global warming activism for a political science class, an article on global warming from a chemistry journal will not be relevant. The title of the journal should tell you what field the article came from. The title of the book or article may give you some clues about the focus as well.

3. Are you looking for recent information? If so, the publication date will be a critical clue as to whether the article or book is relevant.

4. Is it a book or an article? Some results lists will tell you specifically what the item is, but you can also tell from the citation. If your professor only wants you to use a specific type of resource like journal articles, it is important to follow the assignment parameters.

5. Is it scholarly? If you are required to use only scholarly sources, you will need to figure out whether the item is scholarly or not. For books, look at the publisher (is it a University press or other scholarly press? You can go to the publisher's website for more information. For articles, look at the title of the journal, not the article title. You can search for the journal title in Ulrichs to determine whether the journal is scholarly or refereed. Note that some databases will indicate in the results whether the article is scholarly or not. In some databases, you can limit yourself to just scholarly articles.

6. What type of article is it? Not every article in a scholarly journal will be appropriate for your research. In addition to research articles and feature articles, journals contain book reviews, editorials, and interviews. However, you may need to read the abstract or even the beginning of the article before you know for sure. When in doubt about whether something is appropriate, read your assignment instructions again or ask your instructor. The type of article may be apparent by the icon with the citation as in this screenshot:

screenshot of a periodical icon for a citation

Here is another example of an article icon:

screenshot of an article icon for a review


7. If it is a research study, what type is it? This may only be relevant in courses that require a specific type of research article such as quantitative, qualitative, experimental, or a systematic review. The abstract usually contains clues about the type of study. Also, look in the article for a "Methods" section, which should describe the type of research. 

How Do I Know It's Peer-Reviewed?

If you find an article and you're not sure whether the journal it's in is peer-reviewed, Ulrichs International Periodicals Directory can help. Just do a quick search in Ulrichs for the titie of the journal in which the article was published. Then select the correct journal (note, you may see multiple versions of the same journal -- this is often the case when online and print versions exist or the journal has changed publishers, but it's possible that there are two or more journals with the same name):

When you click on the title of the journal, you will see quite a bit of information about that journal. What you're looking for is whether it is refereed or not. If it is, that means that it is a peer-reviewed journal (refereed = peer-reviewed). If you were not sure if you clicked on the right journal, check the description and make sure it relates to what your journal article is about.

The C.R.A.P. Test

C.R.A.P. is short for Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of view. Applying the C.R.A.P. Test is one way to evaluate the quality and value of a source (book, article, website, etc.). The quality of your final research project is related to the quality of the sources you use.

C. Currency - How recent is the info? Is it current enough for your topic?

R. Reliability - Does the creator tell you where their information comes from (citations!).

A. Authority - Who is the creator? Are they an expert on this subject? Who published this? Look them up. Do they promoting a specific point of view?

P. Purpose/Point of View - What is the purpose of the work (to sell you something, to get you to adopt their point of view, to inform, etc.). Who is the intended audience (other scholars, people in a specific profession, anyone/a popular audience)?

Evaluating Sources Activity

For this activity, you will look at the first page of search results from that link and determine

1. Which ones you would use in your research on that topic

2. Of those, which ones are scholarly

Peer-Reviewed, Popular… or in Between?

Questions to Ask when Evaluating Articles

  Scholarly, Peer-reviewed, Professional Journals Popular Magazines
Examples Harvard Business Review; American Journal of Sociology; Modern Language Notes

Newsweek; Sports Illustrated; People; National Geographic; Wired

What is “the look”? Somber, serious with graphs and tables. Few, if any, pictures. Attractive, slick with lots of pictures and advertisements.
Who is the audience? Other professionals in the field or discipline. Language is scholarly and subject specific. General audience. Language relative to the topic. Articles can be short and lacking depth.
What is the purpose? To report original research or experimentation or persuade based on research.

To entertain, to sell, or to promote a viewpoint.

Who wrote the article? A scholar or researcher often with an institutional or academic affiliation.

Freelance writers, magazine staff or a well-known person not necessarily an expert in the field.

How carefully is it documented? Always has references, footnotes and/or a bibliography. Follows a style like APA or MLA. Rarely cites sources or makes broad references to sources.