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ENGL 100-101: Evaluating
Sources

Evaluation Criteria

You should evaluate all sources, not just those you find online. Consider all of these criteria together, and recognize there is rarely one perfect source. Talk to your professor if you're not sure if a source is appropriate for an assignment.

Criteria to consider:

Accuracy: Are the facts and statistics correct and verifiable? Does it tell you where the statistics came from?

Audience: Who is the source intended for? Scholars or experts in a field? Children? The general population?

Author and publisher: Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why? What's their reputation? Domain suffixes (e.g. .org, .edu) alone are NOT sufficient indicators of credibility.

Currency: Is the publication up-to-date? Historic? Does it matter?

Documentation: Do the authors or editors include references/citations/links to their sources? Are sources named?

Objectivity: Is there an obvious bias, or does the source appear to be objective? Is the author providing factual information or expressing an opinion? Articles labeled "editorial" or "commentary" denote an opinion, and even reputable publications include such pieces.

Presentation: Is the source free from spelling and grammatical errors? Does it look professional? Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

Purpose: Is the source intended to inform? Persuade? Entertain?

The Purdue OWL has an excellent guide to Evaluation During Reading.

The Information Cycle

This video from Lynda.com introduces "how news and media coverage of events change over time." When an event occurred can determine the availability of types of sources that discuss it.

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Types of Periodicals

 

Scholarly Journals

Trade Journals

Popular Magazines

Newspapers

Examples

Social Psychology Quarterly

Advertising Age

Time

New York Times

Content

Primary account of original research (i.e. research papers); In-depth analyses of issues in the field; Articles often include abstract, method, discussion, tables, conclusion, and references/bibliography; May include editorials or commentaries

Current news, trends, or products in an industry or professional organization; Statistics, forecasts, employment and career information; Ads

Current events and news; General information with purpose to entertain or inform; Analyses of popular culture; Secondary account of someone else's research that may include opinion; Ads

Current events and news that may be local, regional, national or international; Ads, editorials, speeches; Primary source for information on recent events

Audience

Researchers, scholars, professors, etc.

Practitioners and professionals

General population

General population

Language

Academic, technical jargon that uses the language of the discipline; Requires some relevant expertise

Specialized jargon or terminology of the field

Easily understandable, non-technical language

Easily understandable, non-technical language

Authors

Researchers, scholars, professors, etc.

Practitioners in the field, industry professionals, or journalists with subject expertise

Journalists or staff writers

Journalists or staff writers

Editorial Process

Volunteer editorial board and usually peer review

Paid editors

Paid editors

Paid editors; Editorial review may be minimal at the time of breaking news

References

References, footnotes or bibliographies are always included

References in text or short bibliographies are occasionally included

References are rarely included

Rarely cite sources in full

Publishers

Universities, scholarly presses, or academic organizations

Commercial publishers or trade and professional organizations

Commercial publishers

Commercial publishers

Example Databases

JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts

ABI Inform, Business Source Premier

Readers Guide, Academic Search Complete

LexisNexis Academic, Access NewspaperARCHIVE

What is peer-review?
The rigorous process that articles undergo before they are published. Scholars in the author's field or discipline review and evaluate the article for quality and validity. If lacking, the article may be rejected. Reviewers often offer suggestions for revision as a condition of acceptance. Watch Peer Review in 3 Minutes (NCSU) for more details.

 

This chart is adapted from Northwestern University's Evaluating Articles page.

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