Evaluate & Choose Quality Sources: Are my Sources Relevant?

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 International Periodicals Directory  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:

periodical citation icon

Here is another example of an article icon:

article review icon


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. 

Selecting Peer Reviewed Articles for Your Research Video

This video shows you different ways to check whether an article is peer-reviewed. 

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