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5) Evaluate Sources: Evaluating Articles

A University of Lethbridge Library guide to evaluating sources.

Evaluating Articles

Just because information has been printed in a journal or similar serial publication doesn't mean that it is necessarily accurate or appropriate to use in your research. Consider asking the following questions before citing an article in your work:

Authority: Can you trust the source?

  • Who is the author? What are the author's credentials or other qualifications? Is the author a recognized authority in the relevant field of study?
  • Is the article published in a reputable scholarly journal (see table below)? Did the article undergo a peer review process (see section on Ulrichsweb below)?
  • How many times has the article been cited by other researchers?

Currency: Is the information up to date?

  • When was the article published?
  • Is the information time-sensitive? Some types of information go out of date quickly (e.g. medical knowledge).

Purpose: Why was the article written?

  • Who is the intended audience? Is the article written for an academic or popular audience?
  • Does the author present a balanced view of the topic? Are opposing viewpoints and counterevidence acknowledged?
  • Can you identify any major conflicts of interest (e.g. medical researchers employed or funded by pharmaceutical companies)?

Content: Is the information that the article presents quality academic research?

  • Is the article organized in a logical and understandable manner?
  • Are the author's arguments well-reasoned and supported by sufficient evidence?
  • Does the article include a bibliography or reference list? Is it lengthy? Are the materials cited primarily scholarly sources? Are they a mix of primary and secondary sources, or only secondary sources?

 

Scholarly Journals, Trade Journals, and Magazines

It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between scholarly journals and other serial publications (such as trade journals and popular magazines).  This table outlines many of their distinguishing characteristics:

  Scholarly Journal Trade Journal Popular Magazine
Title Descriptive and precise. The words "Journal," "Transactions," "Proceedings," or "Quarterly" often appear in the title. Descriptive. Usually identify a particular industry or area of interest (e.g. “Architect’s Journal,” “Chemical and Engineering News”) Less descriptive than trade or scholarly journal titles. May not indicate the magazine’s focus or intended audience
Author Professors and other researchers who are considered to be authorities in their field of study Professional journalists, freelance writers, or working professionals who are knowledgeable about a specific trade, profession, or industry Professional journalists, freelance writers, or staff writers who often lack specialized training in the field in which they are reporting
Editor Peer review process No peer review; editors work for publisher No peer review; editors work for publisher
Publisher Scholarly organizations, professional societies, university presses Professional societies, trade organizations Commercial (for-profit) publishers
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students with specialized knowledge of a particular field Members of a particular industry, trade, or profession The general public
Purpose To report on original research; to provide in-depth, specialized information on a narrow topic; to facilitate communication between scholars To provide practical information to industry professionals; to report on industry trends; to facilitate communication between working professionals To provide general information; to express public opinion; to entertain the general public
Publication Schedule and Volume/Issue Numbering

Generally published monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

Volume and issue numbers are important to note for your citations.

Publication schedules vary.

Record the date of publication and volume number for your citations.

Often published weekly or monthly.

Record the date of publication and volume number for your citations.

Writing Style Written in formal language. May contain academic jargon or technical terms May contain industry-specific jargon or technical terms Informal writing style; accessible to a wide audience
Bibliography All references are carefully cited. Bibliographies are always present at the end of the article and can be very long (e.g., several pages of citations) May include a short bibliography Citations are not usually provided; the reader may have no way of verifying the information cited in the article

 

NOTE: For more information on identifying scholarly sources, see the scholarly sources page.

Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory

How can I determine whether a particular journal is peer reviewed?

Most databases will allow you to limit your search to peer reviewed articles. You will usually see this option on the database's advanced search page.

If you're unsure about a particular journal, you can look the journal up in Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory to check its publication information and determine whether or not it's peer reviewed.

What is Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory?

Ulrichsweb is a database that contains authoritative information about more than 300,000 periodicals. It includes bibliographic and publisher information for peer reviewed journals, popular magazines, newspapers, newsletters, etc.

How do I look up a journal in Ulrichsweb?

To determine whether a particular journal is peer reviewed, enter the title of the journal in the search bar on the Ulrichsweb homepage:

You will see a list of results matching your search terms:

Once you have located the journal, check the columns on the left. The black icon indicates a refereed (peer reviewed) journal:

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