Answered By: Chris Pollette
Last Updated: Feb 20, 2015     Views: 15

Here are some questions to ask when reading the source:

1. What is it about? The title will be your first immediate clue. Read the abstract (a summary of the article) to know if an article is really related to the topic you're researching. If there is not an abstract, read the introduction of the article and scan the article headings.

2. What is the subject area focus? Knowing what discipline an article comes from can help you decide if the article is relevant. Look at the title of the book/article or the journal title to try to determine the subject area. For example, if you are researching global warming activism for a political science class, an article on global warming from a chemistry journal may not be a great fit because it is too technical, and not focused on political issues.

3. Will it help you answer your research question?

4. Are you looking for recent information? If so, the publication date will be a critical clue to whether the article or book is relevant.

5. Ask yourself how you might use the source -- will you be analyzing it, using it for background/factual information, arguing for or against the same point it's making, etc.?

6. Is it a book or an article? Some results lists will tell you specifically what the item is, but you can also tell from the citation. If your professor only wants you to use a specific type of format (like peer-reviewed journal articles), it is important to know that.

7. Is it scholarly? If you are required to use only scholarly sources, you will need to figure out whether the item is scholarly or not. For books, look at the publisher (is it a University press or other scholarly press? You may need to Google the publisher to figure it out). For articles, look at the title of the journal (not the article title). You can search for the journal title in Ulrichs International Periodicals Directory to determine whether the journal is scholarly/refereed. Note that some databases will indicate in the results whether the article is scholarly or not, and in some databases, you can limit your search to just scholarly articles.

8. What type of article is it? Not every article in a journal (even a scholarly journal) may be appropriate for your research. In addition to research articles and feature articles, peer-reviewed journals contain book reviews, editorials, interviews, and more. The type of article may be apparent from the information provided by the database, but in some cases, you may need to read the abstract or even the beginning of the article before you know for sure. When in doubt about whether something is appropriate, look at your assignment instructions and/or ask your instructor.

9. If it is a research study, what type is it? This may only be relevant in courses that require a specific type of research be used (quantitative, qualitative, experimental, systematic review, etc.). The abstract usually contains some clues about the type of study. Also, look in the article for a "Methods" section, which should describe how the research was conducted. If one does not exist, it's probably not a research study.


Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!


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