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ENGL 401: Nineteenth-Century American Activist Rhetoric (Bizzell)

Evaluating sources

Some tips for identifying scholarly articles:

  • Most scholarly articles are published in academic journals or edited collections. Articles from magazines, trade journals, or newspapers are not scholarly.  However, you can certainly use them as primary sources. 
  • Scholarly articles will always include citations and a bibliography. Other articles generally include few or no citations, and will include only a brief bibliography or notes section if any at all. 
  • Not all resources with citations are scholarly (for example, Wikipedia is not). 
  • If you're not sure about a source, check for information like: the author's name/credentials; the publication it appears in or the publisher;  or the intended audience. 
  • Book reviews and editorials are never scholarly, even when published in scholarly journals. 

Whether searching on the web or browsing the library stacks, it's important to pay attention to the sources you are using and evaluate them critically. This, of course, is usually more crucial for web resources, but is good practice when doing research of any kind. 

Questions to help you evaluate sources as your research: 

Who is the author?
How is the author qualified?
o Is the author an expert?
o Does the author have bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)
o If no author is listed, why? Be wary if you cannot determine an author or group responsible for the content you are reading. 

Host or Publisher
o Who hosts the site? OR Who publishes this resource?
o What is their purpose and audience?
o Does the host/publisher have bias?  (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)

For Websites: Domain 
o What is the domain extension?
This can help you determine how reputable a website is. For example, .gov is the domain for United States government sites and .edu is for US Educational institutuions. Note that not all .com sites are unreliable and not all .org sites are reputable -- .org simply means that the website is for a non-profit group. 

o Does the resource provide its sources?
o Does it refer/link you to other credible sources?
o Is the information able to be cross-referenced?

o Is the site regularly updated? OR When was the resource published? 
o Is there any information which seems out-of-date? 

Primary sources and newspapers