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ENGL 100: Introduction to Literary Study (Knight)

Spring 2023: Homesick

Understanding & Selecting Sources

Kinds of Sources:

During your time at Holy Cross, you may find yourself using a combination of both popular and scholarly sources. 

popular resource is a resource for 'popular' consumption -- it has been written so that most people can easily read and understand it. This might include newspapers or magazines, some books, and some journals written for people in specific jobs. While there is usually an editor who checks these sources for good writing and for errors, this is mostly done by a single person rather than a group. Popular articles are usually written by journalists or professional writers, although sometimes they are written by experts on a specific topic. 

Scholarly sources are written by experts on a particular subject (for example, a professor or other researcher). They also go through an extra process of review and approval by a group of other experts before they can be published. Usually, scholarly articles are written in 'academic-ese' and designed to be read by other scholars. You will probably find yourself using many scholarly sources in your other Holy Cross classes. However, because scholarly sources take a long time to be approved and published, they are not good sources for current news.  Click here to explore the parts of a scholarly article as shown by the NC State Libraries. 

How can you tell if you have a scholarly article in your hand? 
The chart below compares the characteristics of scholarly vs. popular (non-scholarly) sources:  Handout version of popular vs. scholarly source chart; click to enlarge

author Usually staff writers and/or journalists Experts on the topic -- usually researchers, scholars and/or professors
audience General public (for "popular" consumption) Other experts (and students) in the field
editing & review Editor(s); generally concerned with grammar, style, etc., with some fact-checking Other experts ("peer reviewed"); generally concerned with quality, thoroughness of research, strength of argument, etc. 
style & design

Reasonably brief, typically uses colloquial if not informal language. Often illustrated with graphics, sidebars and other aesthetic elements. Sometimes accompanied by ads.

More extensive in length; tends to be more formal and uses specialized vocabulary. Illustrations and charts are used only when furthering content. 
goal or purpose To entertain; and/or, to share general information To share findings, advance and argument and/or engage with other scholars
sources Few or none; if sources are used, there may not be formal citations.  Typically uses many sources, cited in detailed bibliographies, footnotes and/or endnotes
examples Time Magazine; Sports Illustrated; New Yorker; Boston Globe Annual Review of Political Science; American Historical Review; Sociology of Education

Asking Questions: 

No matter what you're researching or what kinds of information you're working with, you should always interrogate your sources. 

Situate your source within the context of the timeline, the audience, the content, etc. Think of it like doing a background check! 


 Who is the author?

 How is the author qualified?

 Is the author an expert?

 What is the author's bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated -- but there is almost always some bias!)


 What is the source? Is it a research report? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay? 

 What does this tell you about the source's audience, purpose, and potential bias(es) or shortcoming(s)? 


 Is the source recent (or, if digital, regularly updated)?  When was it published? 

 Is there any information which seems out-of-date? 


 Who hosts the site? OR Who publishes this resource?

 Does the host/publisher have bias?  (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)

 What is the domain extension?

The publisher and/or domain can help you determine a website's origin. For example, .gov is the domain for United States government sites and .edu is for US Educational institutions. 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.  This can include everything from charities, to libraries, to hate groups. 


 What is the purpose and audience of the source?

 What is the benefit, and/or who benefits, if this source reaches and/or successfully convinces readers? 


 By what means was this source created? 

 Does the resource provide its sources?

 Does it refer/link you to other credible sources?

 Can you determine whether the information came from, and whether the original source/info is represented accurately?

Lateral Reading: 

Lateral Reading is a more nuanced technique of evaluating websites and other kinds of sources. 

While the questions on the previous page are a great place to start, sometimes you can't answer them completely -- or, sometimes, they don't give a complete picture of the information you are looking at. 

The video below explains what lateral reading is, why it's important, and how to do it. 

The Information Lifecycle:

The Information Lifecycle helps us understand how information about an event, topic or idea might emerge and evolve over time. 

Note that this timeline is just a general sense of the information lifecycle -- the exact timing can vary greatly from one discipline to another! 

Let's Practice! 

Each group has been given the first page of a source corresponding with the list below.  

Open your source link and look at in depth!
Look at the source itself.

Look into the publication and/or publisher. 

Look into the author. 

Explore the site where it is located -- the header, the footer, About pages. 

Then, rank your source as a group. Is it....