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It is always a good idea to evaluate the sources you've found before you use them in your paper.

There are many types of sources:

When using a website as a source, be sure to check it for:

  • Accuracy – How accurate is the information? Is it correct?
  • Authority – Who wrote the page? Is the author or organization qualified to write the page? .org, .edu, and .gov sites are good sites to start with. Just remember that .com sites can also sometimes be reliable, too.
  • Currency – When was the webpage created? When was the last time the website was updated?
  • Coverage – Are the links to external sites up-to-date? Where do they link? Are there any citations for information presented?
  • Objectivity – Is there a bias to the information that is being given? Even with .edu and .org sites, there might be a bias or slant to the information presented. And remember, a non-biased source will not necessarily be one that agrees with your own personal opinions - be sure to look for signs that the author is truly objective.

Adapted from Kapoun, J. (1998). Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: A guide for library instruction. College & Research Libraries News, 59(7), 522-523.

Articles in scholarly journals (sometimes also called "academic" or "peer-reviewed" journals) have been vetted in some fashion--colleagues and experts in the field have reviewed the article and determined that the research is sound and legitimate. The process for peer-reviewing an article can take years at times from when it was written, reviewed, edited, and then finally published. These journals are text-heavy and have few pictures or diagrams, and the pictures or diagrams will directly explain the research.

Your professor wants you to use these articles because they are accurate, research-heavy, and authoritative sources of information. Look for a Works Cited or References page that lists the author's or authors' research.

Also, note that some peer-reviewed and scholarly journals will have pieces like editorials, opinion pieces, and ads that are not peer-reviewed. When you see an article that is labeled as peer-reviewed, double check that it doesn't fall into one of these categories.

Articles in trade journals are written by experts in the field, but do not have the same level of research and review as articles in peer-reviewed journals. These articles usually take a year or less to write and be published, and will be accompanied by far fewer citations. Trade journals usually include lots of photos and ads to catch the reader's eye.

Magazines like Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated are intended for casual reading by the general public or enthusiasts of a specific subject. They are good sources of information, but they do not explore topics in depth and although they include lots of eye-catching photos and ads, they rarely provide citations.

Any magazines that you can find at a grocery store are not going to be good sources of information for a research paper, because they do not have the same level of research and review that either trade or peer-reviewed articles have. However, popular magazines can be a good way to get some background information on a topic before beginning heavy research.

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