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History, Latin America *

Research strategies for researching historical topics related to Latin America, migration, and culture.

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considered scholarly, because, although generally written by experts, they do not focus on advanced research and are not peer-reviewed.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

Once you have located online sources you are considering using for your research project, it is important to critically evaluate the source for reliability.

One method to evaluate sources is the SIFT Method, developed by Mike Caulfield.

The SIFT Method

The SIFT method is used for critically navigating and assessing digital information. It is designed to evaluate the credibility of information, understand its context, and decide on its reliability. It involves four critical moves: Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Better Coverage, and Trace Claims to the Original Context. This method Adopting SIFT establishes a critical mindset when you pause to consider the source, search for diverse perspectives, and locate the original source of claims, fostering a more informed and critical approach to consuming digital content.

SIFT Method. Stop, Investigate, Find Better Coverage, Trace Claims Back to Original Source.

The four critical moves of SIFT:

  1. Stop: Before engaging with content, pause to consider your familiarity with the source and its credibility. This step encourages mindful information consumption Ask yourself whether you know the website or source of the information, and what the reputation of both the claim and the website is.
  2. Investigate the Source: Take a moment to understand the source's background. Knowing the author or publisher's expertise and agenda aids in interpreting the content accurately.For example, watching a video promoting milk benefits created by the dairy industry, recognizing the source's vested interest is key to understanding biased reporting. This awareness informs your understanding and critical assessment of the information presented.
  3. Find Better Coverage: Look for reputable sources that cover the same topic. This helps in understanding different perspectives and the consensus around a claim. Should you start to feel bogged down while verifying facts, pause and reflect on your goal. For intentions like sharing, reading for enjoyment, or grasping basic concepts, confirming the credibility of the source may suffice. However, for in-depth research, it's beneficial to meticulously investigate and confirm each claim made in an article on your own.
  4. Trace Claims to Original Context: Go back to the original source of the information to see it in its true context, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the material. Online content often lacks the full context, such as potentially misleading captions on seemingly real images. Similarly, health claims might reference research findings ambiguously. To address these issues, it's advised to track back to the original source of any claim, media, or quote to understand its true context and verify the accuracy of the claim you encountered.

Additional Evaluation Techniques

When finding sources online, 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?

Other Evaluation Acronyms

  • 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 its validity change? 

Evaluating Primary Sources

It is important to examine primary sources with a critical eye since they represent unfiltered records of the past. Below are some questions to consider once you've found a primary source(s):

RUSA's Guide to Evaluating Primary Sources

  • Who is the author or creator?
  • ​What biases or assumptions may have influenced the author or creator?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • What is the origin of the primary source?
  • What was the significance of the source at the time it was created?
  • Has the source been edited or translated, or altered in some way from the original?
  • What questions could be answered about the time period by using this source?
  • What, if any, are the limitations of the source?
  • Does your understanding of the source fit with other scholars’ interpretations, or does it challenge their argument?

The 6 C's of Primary Source Analysis:

  1. Content - What is the main idea? Describe in detail what you see
  2. Citation - When was this created?
  3. Context - What is going on in the world, the country, the region, or the locality when this was created?
  4. Connections - Link the primary source to other things that you already know or have learned about.
  5. Communication - Is this source reliable?
  6. Conclusions - Ask yourself: How does the primary source contribute to our understanding of history?