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Introduction to Research at the TML

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Evaluating Sources

This page was based on a workshop given by Cody Mansley. Additional BC research guides that may be of interest include: Assessing Journal Quality, Finding Scholarly Journals, and Assessing Article and Author Influence

What Do We Mean, “Evaluating Sources?”

Source Evaluation is the process of critically examining information to determine if it is appropriate for inclusion in academic work.

  • Remember: Not all information is equal.
  • Just because something is printed or online does not mean it is accurate, reliable, or even researched.
  • Remember: First results may not be the best result when searching.
  • Studies have shown that the majority of students will simply click on the first result when searching for information online. (Hough 2011; OECD 2011)

Preliminary Definitions

When evaluating articles, most can be categorized as one of three types of styles based on the intention, scope, and level of expertise of the writing:

  • Popular - Popular writing commonly takes the form of newspapers, television programs, or forms of art aimed at ordinary people and not at experts or intellectuals.
  • Academic - Academic is used to describe things that relate to the work done in schools, colleges, and universities, especially work that involves studying and reasoning rather than practical or technical skills. Academic writing is focused on work that involves research, reasoning, and engagement with the experts in a field.
  • Peer-Reviewed/Refereed- Scientific / scholarly writing or research that has undergone evaluation by other experts in the field (peer review) to judge if it merits publication or funding.
    • Scholar - A specialist in a particular branch of study, especially the humanities; a distinguished academic.
      • Scholarly - Involving or relating to study done by scholars.

How Do We Evaluate Articles?

When evaluating sources, we should ask questions to help us determine if a resource is of a higher quality suited for academic writing: 

  1. How current, or up-to-date, is this information?
    • While “newer” does not equal “better”, older information should be scrutinized closely for biases, incorrect facts, and outdated concepts or terminologies.
  2. Is this information relevant or suitable for my purpose?
    • The information of the source should be suitable for an academic setting and related to your topic. 
  3. Who is the author?
    • What are their qualifications, experience, history of publication? Are they an expert in their field? Does the author have a potential bias? 
  4. What is the nature of the publication? 
    • Is it a published source or a personal webpage or pamphlet?
    • Is it indexed in databases, and are its articles frequently cited? 
    • What are the standards of publication listed on the publisher's website or on the journal itself?
    • Who is on the editorial board and are they recognized experts in the field?
    • Is it peer-reviewed or recognized as academic on Ulrichsweb?
    • For other quality factors, see the BC Libraries' libguide on OA Journals Quality Indicators.  (Though this list focuses on how to evaluate open access ("OA") journals which are freely available online, the same factors are helpful in assessing other publications.)
  5. Can you verify the source's arguments?
    • Are there footnotes or references that you can check for accuracy? 
    • Does the source cite the work of other scholars?
  6. What is the purpose of the source?  
    • Is the intent of the information to present opinions, report research, sell a product, or entertain? Is this information aimed towards the general public? Scholars? Children?

Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles on EBSCOhost

Many databases used in the study of theology (Atla Religion Database with AtlaSerials PLUS, New Testament Abstracts, Old Testament Abstracts, Philosopher's Index with Full Text) are on the EBSCOhost platform.  If you view the tutorial below, it will show you how to search for peer-reviewed articles, as well as give you general search tips on using standard features on the interface.

Identifying Academic Journals with Ulrichsweb

Not all academic journals are peer-reviewed (an example of such a journal is the Josephinum Journal of Theology).  To assess whether a journal is of good scholarly quality, you can check how it has been registered in the Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory, which is a publication that has been in existence since 1932 and provides helpful profiles on over 300,000 serial publications from around the world. 

To check a publication's profile:

  1. Enter its title into the search box
  2. Click on the hyperlinked title for the publication that appears in the search results list
  3. Within the journal's profile, there should be a "Content type" category.  If it says that the publication is "Academic/Scholarly," then it has been rated as such by Ulrich's editorial team. 

"Popular" Publications

America Magazine

Popular theological resources often can have informative content, and can serve as primary sources, providing immediate, first-hand accounts of an event or a condition that you want to research.  However, they are not regarded as academic, and should not cited as a scholarly source in a research paper.

"Academic/Scholarly" Publications

Josephinum Journal of Theology

Academic/scholarly theological publications are suitable for research papers, as they contain content written by scholars for the intention of furthering research in a given area.  The publications may be peer-reviewed or not.  

"Peer-reviewed" Publications

Journal of American Academy of Religion

Peer-reviewed theological publications are academic, and the products of a peer-review process that involves the evaluation and approval of publication by other experts in the field.  They are suitable for use as sources in research papers.