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History: Evaluating Sources

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Scholarly vs. Non-scholarly

  Scholarly Article Non-scholarly Article
Purpose To share findings of a study, to review other scholarly literature. To entertain or provide a broad, informative understanding of a subject
Audience Other scholars, students of the subject, or professionals in the field The general public
Author A professional in the field or a student within the subject; usually an expert in the field. You can find the author's credentials usually within the document A reporter hired for the magazine, newspaper, or other form of media--they may consult with experts in the field for their research but they primarily write the article.
Publisher Usually an academic or professional organization (a university, a professional organization, or independent academic journal) A publishing company
Language Very specialized writing that is specific for the field; often a very high level (college and post-graduate) A layman's vocabulary that is easy for the general public to understand. If more specific vocabulary is used, it is defined and explained by the writer; occasionally informal
Length Often long, ten pages or more Short, usually one page; often within a short word limit
Location In scholarly databses (Google Scholar, ProQuest, EBSCOHost); may be in a subscription service Found on the Internet, in magazines, and in newspapers
Article Style A very structured format; abstract, introduction, methodology, observations, results, discussion, conclusion (this may vary depending on the field of study) Conversational, not very structured
Sources Other scholarly sources, such as books, journals, and other literature related to the field; specifically structured in-text and at the end in a bibliography Rarely sourced, if sources are mentioned they are usually mentioned within the writing informally

Questions to Ask Yourself

Currency - The timeliness of the information

  • When was this information published or released?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does my project or research rely on current information? (a history paper vs a biology paper)

Relevance - The importance of the information to your needs

  • Does the information answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information presented at an appropriate level for your project?
  • Are you comfortable citing this information in your project?

Accuracy - The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Can you verify this information (through personal experience, more research, other sources, etc.)?
  • Does the writing contain bias? What is the bias?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the source or content of the source?

Authority - The source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher? What are their credentials?
  • Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
  • Is there any contact information to get in touch with the publisher or author?

Purpose - The reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To entertain? To inform? To sell something?
  • Is the point of view impartial and objective?
  • Is the opinion fact, opinion, or propaganda?