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Evaluating Information Sources: Evaluate Your Sources

Tips on evaluating popular and scholarly articles, bias and propaganda in publishing, impact metrics and predatory publishing.

Welcome

In this era when anyone can write and publish anything, thinking critically about what you read is vital. Does the article make sense? Is there a bias towards one viewpoint or does the reporting seek to address multiple views or sides of an issue? How does the source report the facts, are they sensationalized or distorted?  The goal of this guide is to help you understand the information cycle (what may be published when) and to give tips to evaluating what you read. Remember, both scholarly and popular sources are appropriate for research - depending on the context of your research.

Understanding the Information Cycle

The Information Cycle is the progression of media coverage of a particular newsworthy event. Understanding this cycle will help you know what information is available on your topic and to better evaluate information sources covering that topic at that time.

Flow of Information

(For a larger view of this chart, right click and open in a new tab).

Scholarly vs Popular

What is the distinction between popular and scholarly sources? Below is a chart comparing works with a more scholarly focus and those that are less so. Additionally, there are three main types of publications:

  • Scholarly sources are intended for academic use with a specialized vocabulary and extensive citations; they  are often peer-reviewed. Scholarly sources help answer the "so what?" questions and make connections between variables (or issues).
  • Popular sources are intended for the general public and are typically written to entertain, inform or persuade. Popular sources help you answer "who, what, where, and when" questions. Popular sources range from research-oriented to propaganda-focused.
  • Trade publications share general news, trends, and opinions in a certain industry; they are not considered scholarly, because, although generally written by experts, they do not focus on advanced research and are not peer-reviewed.

For a detailed chart comparing these three types of publications, visit: 

More Scholarly More Popular
 Publishing source: Academic journals, government, some magazines and journals  Publishing source: Trade journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs
 Author: Expert on the topic, someone who works in or knows that field  Author: Anyone; may be a reporter or someone who feels like writing on the topic
 Audience: Specialized (often of peers or students), people interested in the topic  Audience: The general public
 Goal: To inform or present research; answer the "so what?" questions, make connections between variables/issues  Goal: Generally to entertain or persuade, may inform; answers the "who, what, where, and when" questions
 Content: Research-based  Content: Reporting events, the findings of others, or personal experiences; opinion-based
 Reviewers/Editors: Generally peer-reviewed or fact-checked by peers or staff editors  Reviewers/Editors: Staff editor may review
 Format: Standardized (for scholarly articles and formal reports); variable for other publications  Format: Variable: includes websites, blogs, and infographics
 Citations: Generally includes references, footnotes and/or links to sources  Citations: Usually none, may link to related resources 
 Vocabulary: Complex, generally technical and focused on the field, formal  Vocabulary: Familiar, non-technical; may focus on an emotional appeal
 Graphics: Used to illustrate a point  Graphics: Used for visual impact
 Title: May include: report, study, findings  Title: Often general, usually catchy
 Examples: Annals of Psychology, Mother Jones, National Academies Press  Examples: People, Time, My Blog

Evaluating Popular and Web-Based Sources

When finding resources, ask yourself the following questions to determine if they are appropriate to use (SCAAN test):

  • Source type: Does this source answer your research question? Is it an appropriate type (scholarly or popular, for instance) for your question? Does this contain the information you need to support your argument?
  • Currency: Is this source up-to-date? Do I need a resource that contains historical information?
  • Accuracy: Is this source accurate? Does its logic make sense to me? Are there any internal contradictions? Does it link or refer to its sources? Does more current data affect the accuracy of the content?
  • Authority: Who created or authored this source? Could the author or creator bring any biases to the information presented? Is the author or creator a reputable or well-respected agent in the subject area?
  • Neutrality: Is this source intended to educate, inform, or sell? What is the purpose of this source?

The interactive tutorial  "Evaluating your Sources" offers you practice exercises in source evaluation (may not work in Chrome).Evaluating Your Sources

Other acronyms include:

  • CARBS: Currency, Authority, Relevancy, Biased or Factual, Scholarly or Popular
  • CARS: Credibility (authority), Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support
  • CRAAP: Currency, Relevance (source), Accuracy, Authority, Purpose (neutrality)
  • DUPED: Dated, Unambiguous, Purpose, Expertise, Determine (source)
  • IMVAIN: Independent, Multiple sources quoted, Verified with evidence, Authoritative, Informed, Named sources
  • RADAR: Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Relevance

Finally, consider your own biases when reviewing your information. If the paper/presentation/article had the opposite position/result, would your opinion of it's validity change?