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Evaluating and Citing Sources

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Evaluating Resources

Evaluating Resources

This guide is designed to show you how you can recognize high quality information in print and on the Internet by developing critical evaluation skills.

Finding credible print and online resources for your research papers can be challenging.  You want your information to be accurate, and from reputable sites and authors.  This Guide will help you to start looking at websites and paper sources with a more skillful eye.

For both paper and online resources, there are certain criteria to look at:

  • Currency: Is the information recent, or have there been newer updates?
  • Relevancy: Why are you choosing this information over other resources? What is the scope? Is this resource general or specific?
  • Accuracy: Is this information correct? Can it be verified? Is it complete? Is it cited? Is it peer-reviewed?
  • Authority: Is the author, creator, qualifications, or organization clearly stated? What is their reputation? What type of credentials do they have, and are they appropriate to your topic?
  • Purpose: Who is the intended audience? Is the site trying to sell anything? What biases does the author have and how do they affect the resource?

Criteria used to differentiate periodicals

These general guidelines are designed to help you distinguish between the three main types of periodicals: popular magazines, trade magazines, and scholarly journals. Not all periodicals can be easily classified. If you aren't sure whether a publication is appropriate for your assignment, ask for help at the Information Desk or from your instructor.

Popular Press Magazines

Professional/Trade Magazines

Academic/Scholarly Journals

- general public - people working in the field
- post-secondary students
- researchers and academics
- post-secondary students
Author(s) - on-staff professional journalists
- free-lance journalists or writers
- people working in the field
- free-lance journalists or writers
- academics and researchers in the field
Article Selection - editor assigns and/or chooses articles - editor assigns and/or chooses articles - editorial board of researchers/academics
- "peer review" or "referee" committee
Type of Research - usually secondary reporting of research
- some original research (general public concerns)
- usually secondary reporting of research
- some original research
- mostly original research
Purpose - provide general information; to entertain - provide practical information to people in a specific field - inform or make original research available to the scholarly world
References - may mention sources in text, but no formal citations (i.e., bibliography) - may have a short bibliography of references - contain bibliographies, footnotes, endnotes, and/or works cited
Advertisements - many general ads - ads are usually related to the industry

- may promote upcoming conferences or publications
- very few, if any, commercial advertisements

Appearance - designed to be eye-catching and attractive; glossy pages; colourful pictures - designed to be eye-catching and attractive; glossy pages; moderately colourful pictures - serious and plain-looking; few pictures; may have graphs/charts to illustrate concepts
Writing Style - general language
- informal writing style

- includes terminology specific to the field
- more formal writing style than popular magazines, but less formal than scholarly journals

- full of terminology specific to the field
- formal writing style
Examples - Newsweek
- National Geographic
- Maclean's
- Nursing BC
- CA Magazine
- Advertising Age

- JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association
- International Review of Social History
- Canadian Journal of Political Science

What if you are using an online, full-text article? It's a little trickier determining what a scholarly article is when you don't have the whole journal or magazine in your hand. Here are some clues that may help you:
1) Look for a list of references (a bibliography) at the end of the article.
2) If the article is less that half a page in length, it is not a research article.
3) Look for credentials after the author(s) name.
4) If the title of the publication has the word "journal" in it, chances are it is scholarly.
5) In some article databases (indexes) you can limit your search to "peer reviewed" journals (scholarly journals).
6) Use the chart above to help you evaluate the article.

Finally, if you are still unsure, ask for help at the Information Desk or from your instructor!


Academic Journals


When an assignment specifies that you find research articles, you will need to use academic journals. Many of the Library's Article Databases allow you to narrow your search to peer-reviewed (academic) journals, but your search doesn't end there; not all articles retrieved from academic journals are going to be research articles. Knowing the potential components of an academic journal will help you to determine which articles are research articles, and which are not, despite appearing in an academic journal.
Note:even within a peer-reviewed publication, not all of these components are necessarily subject to the peer-review process. You will need to read a specific publication's editorial policies to determine whether their letters to the editor, book reviews, and news briefs are peer-reviewed prior to publication, or whether they just review feature-length research articles.
Graphic showing 3 types of periodicals (popular, trade, and academic journals) as well as many different subtypes of articles contained in academic journals



Research Article
The primary purpose of a Research Article is to present original findings, though these articles will also include a bibliography of other literature reviewed. These articles can be identified by looking for the following elements: an introduction, description of the research design, discussion of the data and methods, and bibliography. They are also sometimes referred to as “empirical studies,” and they will usually make up the majority of the content in a journal.

Review Article
A Review Article is a secondary source that reports and summarizes other authors’ works for the purpose of reviewing the state of the literature on a particular topic. Review articles contain helpful bibliographies and can be excellent sources for identifying Research Articles in an area of study, but they are not themselves Research Articles.

Clinical Article
Written for practitioners (for example in Nursing,) these articles might present a particular case study or define a new technique.

Theoretical Article
Written to advance theory, these articles use existing research to present a new theory or to analyze and criticize existing theories. The existing research could be found elsewhere in Research Articles, but the Theoretical Article itself should not be confused with a Research Article.

News Report or Brief Report
Journals may contain a News section with brief reports on brand-new research in the field; these are quick summaries or announcements of the research studies, and not full research articles presenting the research findings. The related research article may, in fact, not yet be published.

Book Reviews
Some journals include a section with reviews of new scholarly books in the field of study. The depth of the reviews depends on the specific journal, as does the process by which books are considered for review in the first place. Book reviews can be helpful in identifying resources for further reading.


The Information Cycle

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Citation Management