Articles are a great source of information. There are many different types of articles, some of which may not be relevant for your particular research topic. This section will help you evaluate articles to find the best sources for your project.
Since much of your research may rely on articles, it is important to be aware of the distinctions made between articles that are considered scholarly or professional and those that are considered popular.
How these distinctions are defined varies depending on the context of the research and the discipline, but they usually reflect differences in purpose, audience, and physical appearance.
In general, scholarly or professional sources:
- Present primary accounts of original research or in-depth analysis of a topic.
- Are written by and for researchers, scholars, or practitioners who are considered experts in their field.
- Use specialized language and terminology related to the discipline or profession.
- Often include a bibliography of supporting or related research.
- Undergo a rigorous peer review process through an editorial board.
- Provide general information on topics of interest to a wide audience.
- Are written by journalists or writers who may or may not have any expertise in the topic.
- Use language that is easily understood by the general public.
- Rarely provide citations to source materials.
- Undergo a limited editorial review.
Accuracy refers to whether the article provides verifiable and reliable factual information. Here are some tips to guide you as you investigate the accuracy of an article:
- Are there errors in the information presented? Minor mistakes might be acceptable, but too many errors could undermine the information offered.
- Are there theories that have since been disproven in the article? This is especially important to determine for scientific issues.
- Does the text generally agree with other sources for the same information?
- Is there documentation or evidence presented for the information provided? Look for in-text references and citations or a bibliography at the end of the article.
Most scholarly articles will have an argument or defend a position on a certain topic. Keep in mind that just because a source claims to be "fair" or "balanced" does not make it so -- use your critical thinking skills to evaluate the article for yourself. Here are a few things you might ask yourself to determine bias:
- Does the article contain basic information that contradicts generally accepted information found in many of your other sources?
- When was the article published? Could the time period in which it was written introduce bias?
- Who is the author? Does he or she have strong ties any organizations or corporations? Is the author an active political figure?
- Where does the article appear? A scholarly journal? A newspaper? A magazine strongly tied to an organization or group?
- Are there politics involved? If the article was published by an organization, look carefully for political affiliations, leanings, or any specific agenda it might have.
- What do the author and publisher have to gain from convincing readers their opinion is right?
When determining the credibility of an article, investigate the author's credentials. Ask yourself:
- Is the author an expert in this field? What else has he or she written?
- Where is the author employed? Is the institution reputable?
- Does the author or publisher stand to benefit from the research or argument presented in the publication? For instance, a scientific article touting the health benefits of tea may be less credible if the author works for Lipton, a major brand of tea.
The issue of currency is important when evaluating factual information, since new research and information are constantly emerging. You still need to look at currency with a critical eye, however. Ask yourself:
- Is currency an issue in this field? For some types of information, currency is not an issue. For example, an article on current medical research or case law is more time-sensitive than an essay on Aristotle.
- Does the date the article was published affect its accuracy or introduce bias? This should especially be noted when researching issues in the sciences. Although an article may be published in a very well-respected scholarly journal, if it was published in 1960, it may no longer be considered very accurate.