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H 225: Social and Individual Health Determinants

Guidelines for Evaluating Sources

There is no simple formula for evaluating sources; evaluation always depends on the facts of your own rhetorical situation.  

Here is a basic framework you can use to evaluate your rhetorical situation and analyze how well your sources support it:

1. Is the source useful to you?

  • Does it provide the kind of information you need?
  • Does it meet your assignment requirements?
  • Does it make you think? Did it spark further questions or suggest additional lines of inquiry?
  • Does it help you contextualize or understand other sources?

2. Is this the type of source your audience expects you to use?

  • Is it at the right level -- not too difficult nor too easy for your audience? 
  • Will it give you more credibility with your audience if you use it?

3. Who created the source?

  • Is the author identified AND if they are, are they someone you find credible?
  • If the author is not identified, is there a group or institution responsible for the source?  Do you find that group credible?
  • Have you done whatever additional research you need to do to decide if the author is credible or useful? 

4. What is the author's (or institution's or agency's) purpose in creating this source?

  • Are they trying to persuade you to do or think something specific?
  • Are they selling something?
  • Does their purpose or agenda affect the quality of their evidence? Did it affect how they presented it?

5. (If the source is a scholarly one) is it a good example of research in the discipline?

  • Do they use citations, footnotes, etc. to connect their work to the rest of the field?
  • Is the source referenced by other scholars you've found?
  • Is it current enough to meet your needs?
  • Was it published in a journal or other source important in the field?

(This framework is adapted from one created by OSU librarian Anne-Marie Deitering in The Academic Writer, by Lisa Ede)

Anatomy of a Scholarly Research Article

An important aspect of evaluating sources is determining what kind of source it is. Scholarly research articles are written by experts for other experts and convey the results of empirical research conducted by the authors. Scholarly research articles (also sometimes called peer-reviewed articles or refereed articles) use language that can be hard to understand, and these articles can be difficult to read (remember, they are written for experts). But once you understand the parts of the article, reading it may be a bit easier. Science and social science research articles usually include the following parts:  introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Take a look at this Anatomy of a Scholary Article (from NCSU) to learn more about each part of a scholarly research article. Click on each section for an explanation of that section.

Look at the Article

Scholarly, peer-reviewed, original (empirical) research articles are research articles that have been evaluated and approved by other experts in the discipline (the process of peer-reivew) before being accepted for publication in a journal. They almost all follow a predictable pattern and contain the following elements:

1. AUTHOR:  The author(s) is always listed with the credentials that identify the author's expertise, such as university or research affiliation or the author's academic degree. Contrast this to news articles where the author may or may not be identified (and affiliation or academic credentials are not identified).

2. CONTENT:  There is an abstract at the beginning of the article which summarizes the content. The article almost always follows the pattern of having these sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. News articles, scientific letters and book reviews do not follow this pattern. 

3. ORIGINAL DATA:  Usually, original data will be presented in as charts and graphs illustrating the results of experiments. Contrast this to a news feature, which pulls together results and ideas from other researchers' work. EXCEPTION - Reviews can also be peer reviewed. While they do summarize other researchers' work, authors of a review also add their own summary and repackage the work in a new way to help demonstrate something that is original.

4. LANGUAGE:  The article language tends to be formal and technical, and is particular to the discipline in which it is written.  It is geared to other researchers in the same subject.  Contrast this with popular articles that are written at an informal and basic level for easy understanding by the general public.