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Manage Your Research and Evaluate Your Sources: Evaluating Information Sources

Covers source evaluation systems, metrics, impact factors, plagiarism, and arranging your materials

Understanding the Information Cycle

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

Flow of Information

Scholarly vs Popular

You've heard there is a distinction between popular and scholarly sources -- but what is the difference?

Not everything found in a library is scholarly - and not everything found through a search engine is popular.

  • Scholarly sources are those that are created by and intended for academic use and are almost always peer-reviewed. These sources appear in university repositories and in academic journals. Scholarly sources help you answer the "so what?" questions, and make connections between variables (or issues).
  • Popular sources are intended for the general public and are often freely available online. Government reports, statistics, and non-profit agency reports are considered popular sources because they are intended for the general public and can be found freely online. Popular sources help you answer "who, what, where, and when" questions.
Scholarly Articles Popular Articles

  Publishing source: Academic journal (may be described as refereed or peer-reviewed)

  Publishing source: Magazines, trade journals, newspapers, and blogs

  Author: Expert on the topic or a considered a scholar

  Author: Anyone, may be a lay reporter

  Audience: Specialized, often of peers or students

  Audience: Includes 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; answer "who, what, where, and when" questions.

  Content: Research-based

  Content: Reporting events or the findings of others

  Format: Standardized, includes abstract, introduction, results/discussion, and references; see: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

  Format: Variable, includes websites, blogs, reports, and infographics

  Citation: Includes sources with footnotes and bibliography

  Citation: Sources may not be cited formally or completely

  Vocabulary: Complex and technical

  Vocabulary: Familiar, non-technical

  Graphics: Used to illustrate a point

  Graphics: Used for visual impact

  Title: may include the words: Journal, Review, or Annals; and/or refer to a field of study

  Title: Often general, usually catchy

  Examples: Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Annals of Psychology

  Examples: People Weekly, Time, My Blog

Evaluating Popular or 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 Sources" gives you practice exercises to help you evaluate the best source to use for a variety of research situations.

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

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?