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.
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:
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|
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.
(For a larger view of this chart, right click and open in a new tab).
When finding resources, ask yourself the following questions to determine if they are appropriate to use (SCAAN test):
The interactive tutorial "Evaluating your Sources" offers you practice exercises in source evaluation (may not work in Chrome).
Other acronyms include:
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?