SOWK 546: The Science of Social Work: Evaluating Research Effectively

Research guide for students in the course SOWK 546. Introduction to the role of scientific inquiry in advancing social work goals.

How do I know this source is appropriate for my assignment?

When doing research, it is important to understand...

  • how information is developed and shared across various types of resources
  • the differences between scholarly and popular sources
  • what to look for to critically evaluate the sources of information you find

The resources on this page will guide you through effectively evaluating the sources of information you find and use for your research and assignments. 

Use the SCAAN test to determine what to look for when deciding if an online resource is appropriate for your paper
Source Type Does this source include the information or evidence that you need for your assignment? Is it the right type of source? (do you need to find a peer-reviewed article or a government document)
Currency Is the source up to date? Do I need historical information for my topic?
Accuracy Does the author provide links to other sources that support their arguments? Is the information accurate? Are there any contradictions? 
Authority Is the author reputable? Are they active in the field? Could they bring any biases to the information?
Neutrality What is the purpose of the source? Is it intended to sell something or inform? 


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considered scholarly, because, although generally written by experts, they do not focus on advanced research and are not peer-reviewed.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