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Where Do I Start?

A basic guide to resources and services addressing the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the library.

Evaluating Information Sources

ABC's of Evaluating Information Sources
(websites, journal articles, books, etc.)

Audience

  • To whom is the source directed – children, adults, students; a certain ethnicity, gender or political affiliation?
  • Is it understandable by the layperson, or is it highly technical requiring specialized knowledge?

Authority

  • Is the author of the source listed?
  • Can you determine his/her expertise or credentials?
  • Is contact information given – phone number, address, e-mail?
  • With what organization is he/she associated?

Bias

  • Does the language, tone, or treatment of its subject give the source a particular slant or bias?
  • Is the source objective?
  • Is it designed to sway opinion, sell you something, or simply make an argument? Organizational, institutional, or corporate affiliation can often be a good gauge of bias.

Currency

  • Is the source up-to-date? If it's a site, does it have working links?
  • Is a date given for when it was created and, in the case of online sources, last updated?
  • Is the topic current?

Scope

  • Is the source an in-depth study of the topic going several pages deep, or is it a superficial, single-page look at the subject?
  • Are statistics and sources properly cited and referenced?
  • In the case of websites, does it offer unique information not found anywhere else, e.g., print sources or peer-reviewed journal publications?

Evaluating a Website

Help pages are available for any search engine or directory that you use - take the time to look at them, it will save you time and frustration!

How to Evaluate a Website

Examples of good websites:

Examples of bad websites:

By using common sense and the criteria listed in the sites provided above, you should easily avoid the bad, bogus, false and misleading information that lurks on the web and elsewhere!

Popular Vs. Scholarly Journals

Access the Scholarly and Peer-Reviewed Journals Guide for a thorough introduction to the world of scholarly journals and popular magazines. The table below illustrates the basic characteristics of these two forms of literature.

 

Popular Magazines/Journals

Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed Journals
Author
  • Written by journalists who have training as journalists, but may not have specialized training in the subject they are writing about. For example, a journalist can write about a biochemistry topic or an economic theory without any degrees in chemistry or economics. 
  • Written by scholars with degrees in the field they are writing about and who work in the fields they are writing about.
Purpose and Audience
  • Discusses a current event or general topic for which little or no expertise is required to understand.
  • Intended for a general audience.  You don’t need any special knowledge or skills to understand the articles in the magazine.  You just need to be able to read at a basic level.
  • Discusses a narrow topic within a specific scholarly field, e.g., history, economics, medicine, literature, etc.
  • Intended for an audience with knowledge of the subject. These journals are written for an audience that already knows the basics and wants in-depth knowledge, such as the latest research studies. 
Language
  • Written in non-technical language that is easy for anyone to understand.
  • Written in scholarly or technical jargon that requires special knowledge to understand.
Review and Documentation
  • Reviewed by editors or an editorial board of the publication in which the article is published.
  • References are seldom, if ever, included.
  • Thoroughly reviewed and fact-checked by experts or peers within the same field (hence the designation peer-reviewed journal).
  • References, footnotes, and/or bibliography - a crediting of all sources used - will be included.
Examples
  • Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Time, Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Dallas Morning News
  • Science, Nature, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Cell, Lancet, Sloan Management Review