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Evaluating Information Sources

Learn how to evaluate and critique information sources.

Tips for Reading a Scholarly Article

  1. Keep in mind your research question or argument. Know this can change during the research process.
  2. You don't have to read the entire article in order. We suggest:
    • First, read the abstract. At this point if the article does not seem relevant or useful then discard it
    • Next, read the conclusion or discussion to understand the article's main claims.
    • Then read the introduction for more context
    • Read the rest of the article if the article seems useful, including the methods, results and analysis. Do the methods and analysis make sense? Are the presented in an unbiased way? 
  3. Skimming is okay.  
  4. Think critically. Draw your own conclusions. What questions do you still have? Use your judgment, cross referencing, and the CRAAP test. 
  5. Find more sources from the reference section. This is called Pearl Referencing, or growing a pearl. 
  6. Annotate and Take notes. Find a method that works for you to remember what information most useful in the articles you find.

Parts of a Scholarly Article

Many articles follow a similar format, including these sections: 

  • Abstract 
    • Summary of the entire article.  
  • Introduction
    • Often includes the context or purpose of the study, and why it is important.
  • Literature Review 
    • The most relevant sources on the same topic are summarized to outline existing research and what questions still remain.
  • Methodology / Materials and Methods 
    • How the study was performed. 
  • Results 
    • Findings from the study, including data, statistics, tables, charts, and graphs. 
  • Discussion / Analysis (What it means)
    • What was significant about the results.
  • Conclusion (What was learned)
    • What conclusions can be made. 

Types of Scholarly Articles

You may also be asked to use empirical articles or primary research - but what do these terms mean

Types of Scholarly Articles

  • Empirical Articles - original research is conducted and the article is a formalized write-up of that research (also called primary research)
  • Theoretical Articles - contribute to the theoretical foundations of a field by forming a new theory or exploring theories in a new way
  • Review Article - called a literature or systematic review and is written to bring together and summarize the results or conclusions from multiple empirical and theoretical articles
  • Gray Literature - informally published scholarly work that is often available online and in specialized resources

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Click the image for larger version.

Many times you will be asked to find scholarly articles when you are completing a class assignment. Here are some ways to identify a scholarly journal article. 

  • Scholarly ArticlesInfographic describing popular, trade, and scholarly articles and their differences. Link to larger image.
    • Authors are experts/authorities in their fields.
    • Authors cite their sources in endnotes, footnotes, or bibliographies.
    • Articles must go through a peer-review process (experts in the discipline evaluate each author's work before any articles are published).
    • Articles are usually reports on scholarly research and use jargon from the discipline.
    • Articles are typically five or more pages in length. 
    • Individual journal issues have little or no advertising. Illustrations usually take the form of charts and graphs.
  • Popular Magazines
    • Authors are magazine staff members/regular columnists or free lance writers.
    • Authors often mention sources, but rarely cite them.
    • Individual issues contain numerous advertisements.
    • There is no peer review process.
    • Articles are meant to inform and entertain.
    • Illustrations are numerous and colorful.
    • Articles are typically fairly short  and language is geared to the general adult audience.

Click on the image at the right for more information on scholarly vs. popular articles.

Scholarly vs. Popular Video

You know it when you see it.

From Peabody Library, Vanderbilt University.

Resources for Instructors