November 20th, 2008

Evaluating Articles – You Already Know How to Do This!

Evaluating what you read is an important skill you have to demonstrate as a learner. In some courses you may even have to turn in an evaluation of an article as a course assignment. Are you worried about what you’re expected to say? Feel you’ve never evaluated an article before?

It’s not that hard. In fact, you’re using your information evaluation skills every day, and have been for most of your life.

Every day you encounter news reports, stories, advice, and opinions from a variety of sources. You can’t possibly believe every single source equally – how would you deal with conflicting information? Instead you determine who is the most credible based on what you know about their expertise and experience.

Evaluating journal articles is very similar. You may not have a lot of personal knowledge about the authors or editors of the journal, but there are important clues within the article itself:

  • author affiliations or degrees
  • the subject focus of the publication
  • how arguments are supported (quotes from other experts, references and citations, etc.)

Other aspects of evaluation require some extra legwork on your part, or greater experience in the field:

  • are there other articles on the topic by the same author?
  • the reputation of the publication
  • how radical the ideas in the paper are compared to the current consensus in the field (being a lone voice doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it does require more evidence because it can’t piggy-back on the mountains of evidence provided by others)

As undergraduate and graduate learners, you have an extra layer of evaluation: you have to determine how scholarly something is. Scholarly research requires scholarly sources. And the higher your degree program, the more scholarly your sources must be. Some guy at your bus stop may know a lot about your dissertation topic, but you won’t want to quote him unless he’s published his ideas in a scholarly journal.

For more help with evaluating articles, see our Evaluating section of the Library Research Handbook.

– Erin

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