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Writing & Citing   Tags: apa, reference, research  

Last Updated: Jun 12, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Evaluating Sources Print Page

Evaluating your Internet Sources

It's the age of the Internet, and anyone can post information information in a variety of formats. You need to evaluate each source you consider and ask yourself: "Is the source valid and reliable?" Analyze it for it's CRAP factor:

  • Currency: When was the source published or posted? If it is a website, when was it last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?
  • Reliability: Is the information presented correct? Have you detected any errors or mistakes? Is the information balanced, or biased?
  • Authority:  Who is/are the author(s) of the site? What are their credentials? Who sponsors the site?
  • Purpose: Is the information presented objectively? What are the authors trying to do? Are they trying to sell something? Are they trying to support a bias, opinion, or perspective? Does the author reflect a certain philosophy? Are they trying to get you to vote a certain way or perform a certain behavior?

After considering these factors, if you're still not sure, ask a professor or a librarian. Here are some helpful tutorials on evaluating websites:


Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

When conducting research, it's important to know the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

Primary sources are purely original works from an author. These can include original research articles, interviews, diaries, paintings, drawings, etc.

Example: Original research article on the link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

Secondary sources are generally one step removed from the original work. They can include summaries, analyses, reviews, etc.

Example: A review article analyzing and summarizing 88 studies on the effects of soft drink consumption and health outcomes. 

Tertiary sources usually condense a lot of material, even if they refer back to the primary or secondary sources. These are good sources for finding the general overview of a subject. These include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, etc.

Example: An encyclopedia article on high-fructose corn syrup.


Evaluating Your Sources

Many instructors require you to use academic sources for your papers. These include primary, peer-reviewed scholarly articles. But what separates these from other types of sources you may find? Read on to discover more about evaluating your sources.


Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly

Scholarly journals are publications intended for subject specialists. They are usually published by a university or a specialized professional organization. Examples include New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Psychology, or Nursing Ethics.

  • They are "peer-reviewed," which means that before an article is published, it is first reviewed and approved by other scholars in the field.
  • Articles are usually long and provide extensive references.
  • There are few illustrations or photographs, and usually no advertisements.
  • The author's credentials are usually documented in the article.
  • Articles usually begin with an abstract (summary).
  • They are usually written in specialized, technical language common in the field of study.
  • These are what is known as "primary sources."

Popular magazines are written for the public by journalists or freelance writers for the general public or to a broad audience with specific interests (such as exercise or music). Examples are Time, People, Sports Illustrated, or The Rolling Stone.

  • They are available at stores and newsstands.
  • They are designed to entertain, provide brief summaries of issues, and sell advertised products.
  • They often contain color illustrations, photos and other graphics.
  • Articles may contain some research, but it is usually consists of reports on research done by others. Therefore, these are "secondary" or sometimes even "tertiary" sources.

Trade journals are usually written by practitioners in a particular trade or profession. For example, the oil industry has publications about the news, business, products, practices of its workers, which include scientists, salespeople, and other employees. Examples include Bloomberg Businessweek, Attorney-at-Law, or Interior Design.

  • May be published by trade, professional or non-profit organizations.
  • Authors and editors usually consist of individuals with professional experience in the industry.
  • Content is geared toward topics of practical interest to those in the industry.
  • They will most likely include glossy, color pictures and graphics like popular magazines. Advertising is usually aimed at that particular profession.
  • Original research is not often reported, thus making these "secondary sources," but the information about the industries they cover is usually sound. References and abstracts are not generally included.

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