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Evaluating Your Sources: Evaluating Journal Articles

This guide's purpose is to assist students with evaluating sources and distinguishing among peer-reviewed, trade, and popular sources online and in print.

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Criteria for Evaluating Journal Articles

There are several questions to ask yourself when evaluating journal articles.

 

Is the article scholarly or peer-reviewed?

 

  • "Peer reviewed" (or "refereed") means that an article is reviewed by experts in that field before the article gets published. Some databases allow you to limit your search to Peer Reviewed or Refereed articles.

  • See the tab for "What is Peer Review?" on this guide for more information about peer review.

 

Is the article timely?

 

  • Timeliness depends on the nature of the assignment. In some cases you need recent literature, in others you may need historical literature. Most databases let you limit the search to articles published within a specified timeframe.

 

Is the article relevant?

 

The articles you use should be relevant to your research topic and to each other. 

 

​Finding Relevant Articles 

  • Use search terms appropriate for your topic. 
    • Use the keywords, subject headings, citations in a relevant article to find similar, potentially helpful articles. 
  • Read and critique the article. 

 

Is the article primary or secondary?

 

Primary Research Article 

  • Reports on the original research and findings of the authors.

  • Primary research articles usually have the following (or similar) sections:

    • Abstract
    • Introduction/Literature Review
    • Methodology
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • References

 

Secondary Research Article

  • Reviews, summarizes, and discusses topics of interest.
  • The research is not original; rather, the authors look at other existing research articles on the topic.
  • Secondary articles are useful for learning about a topic of interest and gaining a better understanding of the overall scope or limitations of the research on that topic.

 

What type of periodical did the article come from?

 

  • There are many three main types of periodicals:

    • Scholarly journals
    • Trade publications
    • Popular (including magazines and newspapers)

 

  • Different types of periodicals are appropriate for different assignments.See the Types of Periodicals guide for more information.

 

Is the article written by an authoritative author? Is it published by an authoritative publisher?

 

  • Look at the author’s credentials in the database, or by looking the author up online.
    • Is the author writing on a subject in their field of expertise?
      • An article on a subject in the author’s field is more authoritative than an article written on a subject outside the author’s expertise.
  • Look at the publisher’s website to determine their authority.
    •  Book publishers have specialized audiences, ranging from academic to financial to spirituality, and this can be communicated directly or by reading through lists of their other books.
    • Academic books are often published by presses associated with universities, like Oxford or the University of California.
  • Academic periodicals are usually produced by professional organizations, like American Society of Primatologists, or academic publishers.
    • There are many of these publishers, but like with books, it's often helpful to see what other titles are maintained by the publishers. 

 

Does the article cover the topic adequately?

 

  • The idea of coverage is related to relevance. In addition to relevance, you want to find articles that cover the topic adequately. Some articles will only cover a small portion of the topic. Other articles will be comprehensive. You may need several articles to completely cover a topic.

 

What are the purpose, point of view, and bias of the article?

 

The purpose, point of view, and bias are related but they serve different roles. 

 

Purpose

  • Relates to the message of the article. Is it meant to persuade or to inform? How does the writer use facts or emotional appeals? 

 

Point of view

  • Describes an issue or topic from a specific perspective. Point of view arguments usually have a thesis statement that makes a persuasive argument with relevant data. An article about foreign language requirements for college students will have different points of view depending on who wrote the article and who the assumed audience is. Points of view may vary by discipline, profession, experience, and even opinion.

 

Bias 

  • Different from point of view. While the two are related, bias comes in a few forms. It can describe a distortion, misrepresentation, or poor choice of data in the process of making an argument. Bias can also come from the original data itself, such as in the experimental or analysis phase. Note: rather than seeking "bias-free" articles, try to find the points of bias and disagreement. This is an interesting and sophisticated research technique. 

 

Reading articles carefully will help identify purpose, point of view, and bias in order to research and write effectively. 

 

Is the research in the article sound (reliable and valid)?

  • Peer review is a good start. 
    • Articles that are peer reviewed were critiqued by experts in that field before being published. 

  • Very important to review methodology and conclusions critically personally. 
    • Read the methodology. 
    • Study the field (including looking at the articles the researcher cited) 
    • Evaluate the conclusions for reasonableness and logical fallacies.