Evaluating Sources

How do we know if a source is worthwhile? 

  • Currency: Is the publication date appropriate for your topic?
  • Relevance: Who is the intended audience and does the information help answer your question?
  • Authority: Do the author credentials, organizational affiliation, and publisher indicate expertise?
  • Accuracy: Is the information reliable and supported by evidence or peer-review?
  • Purpose: Does the information exist as fact, opinion, propaganda, or bias?
  • More tips on source evaluation:

What do we mean by "peer reviewed" and "scholarly" articles? 

  • Peer-reviewed articles are approved by other scholars through a specific process: Authors submit their articles to a peer-reviewed journal and then the journal editor sends it to other experts in the field to review the article and provide feedback to the editor. The peer-reviewers and editor may decide the article does not meet standards for publication, or they might ask the authors to make revisions. If the article eventually meets all standards it will be published in the journal. 

Google vs. Library Databases

  • The library is not actually in direct competition with Google or any other search engine. They're best for different things.
  • Librarians use Google, etc., all the time for background information, social media, and some news.
  • When we want to find academic research literature, or search newspapers and specialized databases, or access subscription-only materials, we go through the library.
  • Yes, Google Scholar can find some of the same materials (but not all). When we use Google Scholar we make sure it's connected to the library (Connecting Google Scholar to Harvard Library) because many significant research articles require a subscription to access (and you may have one through the library).

Science Journal Metrics

  • How do you know which articles are most important? One way is measuring how many times a given article is cited by other articles.
  • You can use Web of Science for cited reference searches and journal impact factors. You can use others (Google Scholar, JSTOR & ScienceDirect) but WoS is the most comprehensive and is considered definitive. 
    • Cited Reference Search is essentially mining an article's bibliography and/or footnotes. You can trace the cited references forward and back in time. Cited Reference Search is helpful because:
      • An article cited more than others is generally one that's been found to be more useful or relevant to scholars in the field.
      • It helps you understand the place of a given article in a scholarly discussion.
      • It helps you find other related articles.
    • You can use the "Cited Reference Search" link in Web of Science to search by author or source (journal), or look at the "Citation Network" section in the details of a specific article. 
  • ​Journal Impact Factor is a number that indicates, on average, how often the articles within a given journal have been cited in the past year. This is meant to give an idea of how important the journal is to its field(s).
  • If metrics interest you, you might take a look at http://guides.library.jhu.edu/metrics from Johns Hopkins.