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The Great Conversation: Know Your Sources

Know Your Sources

Information comes from a lot of different sources. Some sources such as Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, or other forms of Social Media you may be used to interacting with on a regular basis. Others such as scholarly journal articles may be less familiar to you. Your job as a researcher is deciding which sources you should use and determining the accuracy of the information being presented. 

Portland Community College Library put together a great infographic on the six key factors of what to consider when selecting a source. A snapshot is included here, but check out the full graphic for all the details.


1. Frequency of Publication
How quickly can the information be published? In the case of a Tweet it is instantaneous, resulting in millions of Tweets per day. Often this information is not very reliable. An article in a scholarly journal on the other hand, takes much longer to publish.

2. Review Process
The review process for information involves both the number of reviewers fact-checking the information and the time spent looking over the content. With academic books and journals, this review process can take months and involves an entire team of reviewers!

3. Author(s') Education
Authors of most reputable sources of information are often considered "experts in their field," holding master's and often doctorates in their field.

4. Sources Consulted
Just like you, authors' of reputable information whether in the form of a popular press magazine article or a scholarly article always cite the sources they used in their writing. This demonstrates not just where their information came from, but also their familiarity with ideas beyond their own.

5. Lengthy
Unlike a Tweet, which is only 140 characters or an Instragram post which may be just a picture, sources such as academic books or scholarly articles are often lengthy, demonstrating support for a well-reasoned argument.

6. Background Knowledge
Sources consulted for academic research often assume background or prior knowledge about the subject. This might mean that authors use jargon common in that field or assumes basic understanding of technical concepts. 

Creative Commons License Infographic licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike license


Reading Scholarly Articles

Reading journal articles published on topics in the sciences is tough.  Often these articles are complex and require a great deal of time to read.  Most journal articles will contain the same core sections: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, and Reference list.  A tip to speed up reading is to read the Abstract, or the summary of the article, to get a general idea of what it is about and then the Conclusion which will summarize the results and discussion succinctly.  You can then determine whether you want to spend your time reading the article in its entirety.   

For more tips on reading scholarly journal article check out this infographic describing the reading process: 

Used with permission from the Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for use or adaptation of materials.

What Does Peer-Reviewed Mean?

An article is considered "peer-reviewed" if it has been reviewed by scholars and professionals within the field of study for which the article was written. This process involves reviewing how the article was written and also the research involved in the study. The review process involves an extensive exchange between the review panel and the author(s) and the article can only be considered for publication in a scholarly journal once it has been approved. 

Ask yourself the following questions about the article you are viewing to determine if it is peer-reviewed: 

  • Does the article contain an abstract?
  • Does the article contain a full bibliography?
  • Are the author(s') credentials easily identified?
  • Does the journal contain little to no advertising?
  • Is the language of the article intended for an informed 
  • Is the article lengthy?
  • Does the journal description include the words "peer-reviewed" or "editorial process."

Many of our databases make the process of locating peer-reviewed information very easy for us by providing a "Peer-Reviewed" checkbox limiter on the search screen. Look for that checkbox when you're searching in library databases!

Evaluating Web Content

Google Scholar is a great starting place for initial research.  Unlike a regular Google search, Google Scholar attempts to connect you with more "academic" content then information typically found on the web.  

As with any web searching important evaluation work will still need to be done on each of the resources you are looking at.  Use the following criteria to evaluation the information from Google Scholar or other web searches.

Websites can be produced by individuals or organizations. Reputable websites will have authorship information easily visible, including both the authors' names and credentials.

To use information in your research it must be judged accurate and verifiable before use.

Look for the publication date of the website, frequent updates, and dates for specific articles.

Does the information provided by the website meet your research need?

A website's purpose is the reason it was created. This should be very clear. Note that some websites might present opinions as facts, but they are actually attempting to sell a product or persuade you.