January 15th, 2010

Evaluating articles on the web – three simple tips

There is a common myth out there that “Everything is available on the web.” I run into this with learners sometimes, who think they can get scholarly journals for their assignments online, through Google or Yahoo. In reality, scholarly journals are tightly copyrighted. Only about 8% of journals are published open access, or free. Others charge you $20-$30 per article.

So why does this myth persist? There are a lot of websites that pose as journals, even though their content is not scholarly or peer reviewed. Don’t let them fool you! Who you trust for information says a lot about who you are as a professional.

Next time you are wondering about whether an article from the free web is scholarly, use these three simple evaluation rules.

Rule One:
Approach every new website as an investigator would. Look for an “About Us” link.

Here is the Asian American Philanthropy Journal. Notice that the articles seemed suspiciously short. There were no citations or reference lists.

Clicking the About Us link showed that none of the contributors are scholars They are entrepreneurs and consultants. That would put this information on the same level as a smaller regional newsletter, in my estimation. These articles are not appropriate for the courseroom.

Rule Two:
Check out the root of the website.

If the website has a long address, go to the URL and delete the ending. The root website might give you clues about the author. For instance, here is an article that came up in an article search for “Urie Bronfenbrenner.”

literacy.kent.edu/cra/2006/mterry/Terry-ecologicalparadigm.doc

bronf ecological

It’s hard to tell from the document what it is or who wrote it, beyond that he/she claims to hold a PhD.

literacy.kent.edu/cra/2006/mterry

Deleting the end and leaving the root of the URL (web address) gives us this address, which takes us straight to the author’s biography.

It still doesn’t look like this is a scholarly journal article, but it does provide some nice citations at the end, which we could use to point us to better articles.

Rule Three:
Check Ulrichsweb, from the Capella Library.
(Library Home > Articles, Books and More > Ulrichsweb.com).

This index includes information about more than 300,000 periodicals. It uses a little referee shirt symbol if a publication is peer reviewed. Anything with a ref shirt should be fine for using in the courseroom.

Learn more about Peer Reviewed Journals and how to search Ulrichs. See our guide “What are peer reviewed articles, and how do I find them?

- Erika

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