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St. Clair County Community College Library

ENG 102 Dr. McNamara

Evaluating sources

Evaluating Sources

Carefully evaluate all information, whether from a book, article, or website, by asking the following questions:

  • Who?  Who is the author of this source?
    • Are they qualified to write/speak on the subject?
    • Do you detect any bias on the author’s part in relation to the subject?
  • What? What is the source?
    • Does it have a title?
    • Is it a primary source, such as an original document or creative work or is it a secondary source, such as a report or analysis of primary sources?
    • Is it authoritative or trustworthy?
  • How?
    • How was the source produced?
    • Who is the publisher or sponsoring organization?
  • Where did you find the source?
    • Was it through a library’s databases or through an internet search engine that may list results in a biased or weighted manner?
  • When was the source published?
    • Has it been replaced or updated?

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., The Modern Language Association, 2016, pp. 11-12.

MLA also provides a great checklist for evaluating sources. 

 

 

Lateral Reading

Other ways to evaluate sources 

Searching for information about the author or organization responsible for the website, article, or book is an excellent way of evaluating sources. This method is called lateral reading. 

  • Google the author or organization responsible for posting the information. 
  • Search the author/organization in the library's OneSearch box. 

Primary versus Secondary Sources of Information

Primary Sources

Below is a link to an article from ProQuest Historical New York Times. It is an interview with Harold Bride, a radio transmitter, who was working aboard the Titanic when it sank. Bride survived and was interviewed days after the event for this article. (You do not need to read the entire article.)

Bride, Harold. "Surviving Wireless Operator of the Titanic. Thrilling Story by Titanic's Surviving Wireless Man. Bride Tells How He and Phillips worked and How He Finished a Stoker Who Tried to Steal Phillips's Life Belt". New York Times (1857-1922), Apr 19, 1912, pp. 1. ProQuest, Accessed 7 May 2021. 

First hand accounts of events are considered primary sources of information. A secondary source would be someone else describing what Bride experienced. Primary sources are excellent to use for research papers; however, you can usually use both primary and secondary sources in your work depending on your assignment. 

While primary sources are excellent to use for research papers, sometimes personal interviews may not necessarily be an accurate description of events. Each witness may have a different perspective of the event. Our view is sometimes obscured by personal emotions, our self-identity, or community values. Consider, for example, when law enforcement officers interview witnesses at the scene of a car accident. Do all witnesses report the exact same sequence of events? Should as many personal accounts as possible be gathered in an attempt to reconstruct the accident?

Why use the library databases?

What is the difference between a popular source such as a magazine and a peer reviewed source / journal?

 

Magazines are written for the general public.  They often have a lot of advertisements in them.

Journals, on the other hand, are targeted to students or professionals working in a particular field.  The usually have very few ads in them.  The articles usually include bibliographies at at the end and the author's or authors' credentials (where they went to college and where they work) are given.

Sometimes a publication is peer-reviewed which means that all of the articles have been read and approved for publication by experts in the field.

Peer reviewed materials are excellent sources of information for scholarly papers!

 

Scholarly journal, trade magazine, or popular magazine?

Popular sources such as magazines

  • Have a lot of pictures
  • Many advertisements
  • No bibliographies or list of sources
  • Sometimes no author is listed

 

Peer reviewed materials

  • Have a lot of graphs and charts usually
  • Few advertisements if any
  • Bibliographies are included
  • Authors credentials or backgrounds are given 
  •  

A peer reviewed source does not have to be a journal. Recently, the University of Michigan Press published A. D. Carson’s new i used to love to dream, a peer-reviewed hip-hop album. 

 

Examples of scholarly journals, trade magazines, and popular magazines

 

 

SCHOLARLY JOURNALS

TRADE MAGAZINES

POPULAR MAGAZINES

Appearance
 

plain cover

plain paper

black/white graphics & illustrations, many charts & graphs

pages consecutive throughout each volume

cover depicts industrial setting

glossy paper

pictures & illustrations in color

each issue starts with page 1

eye-catching cover

glossy paper

pictures & illustrations in color

each issue starts with page 1

Audience

students studying in a particular field, researchers, or professionals

members of a specific business, industry, or organization

nonprofessionals

Content

research projects, methodology, & theory

articles written by contributing authors

industry trends, new products or techniques, & organizational news

articles written by staff or contributing authors

personalities, news, & general interest articles

articles written by staff, may be unsigned

Accountability

peer reviewed/refereed

bibliographies included

editorial review

may have short bibliographies

editorial review

no bibliographies

Advertisements

very few or no ads

all or most of the ads are trade related

many ads throughout

Examples

Critical Care Nurse

Current Psychology

Journal of Small Business Management

Literature-Film Quarterly

Business Marketing

Dairy Farmer

Hospital Law Newsletter

Nursing Times

 

Ladies Home Journal

New York

Psychology Today

Sports Illustrated

Time

Understanding the peer reviewed process

The chart above is from the article cited below. (Reading the article is not required!)