With more information than ever at our fingertips, being able to properly evaluate information is an essential skill. This is especially true when conducting academic research. This guide will help you ask the right questions so that you can ensure your sources are high-quality, timely, and relevant.
A peer-reviewed publication is also often referred to as a scholarly journal. These articles are generally written by experts in the field. Authors then submit their article to a scholarly journal where it undergoes a peer review process before publication. This means other experts in the field review the author's research in order to ensure quality and accuracy. Our library databases have filters that enable you to view only results from scholarly sources.
You may think . . .
"It's published, so I can use it." Well, maybe. If it's published by a legitimate publisher or if it appears in a database, the information is most likely reliable. However, it might not be a good source because of its focus, publication date, or type (for example, a popular magazine if your instructor wants you to use a scholarly journal).
"It came up on the first page of results when I searched the database." Hold on! Many databases put their results in date order. What comes up first are the most recent articles. They may not be the ones that are best for your research.
"I did a search on Google, and it was one of the first sites, and Google has relevancy ranking." Slow down! Searching on the Web brings you face-to-face with the need for evaluating sources for reliability AND appropriateness to the project. Look at those sites critically!
SIFT (The Four Moves) infographic by Mike Caulfield
Investigate the source
Find better coverage
Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context
Do you know and trust the source of the information? If you answered no, use the next steps to learn more about what you are looking at.
Investigate the Source
It’s important to know the context of the information you are reviewing. Is the author or source reputable in their field? Generally, a quick web search can give you a good idea as to the expertise and agenda of the source.
Find Better Coverage
Sometimes you might be unsure of a source, but would like to investigate the claim. If a claim is true, there will be plenty of trusted sources that can corroborate the information.
Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context
There are times when a source only paints a portion of the picture. In these cases, you will want to trace the information back to where it originated. In academic research, we cite our sources so that anyone can trace our research back to the source.