Why Evaluate while Reading?
Even once you've identified a reputable source, you need to evaluate the articles to make sure they are right for your research. Here are just a few reasons why:
- Well-known newspapers and journals publish opinion columns.
- Other researchers may not agree with the research methodology of a study, even if the article is published in a renowned peer-reviewed journal.
- A famous author can get facts wrong.
- Experts can have a bias.
- A well-written, well-researched article in a reputable publication still may not be the right one for you and your topic.
As ideal as it would make life, there's no checklist of perfect journals, newspapers, or authors. However, with practice and critical thinking, you can develop a sense of when something is not right. Use these questions to help you decide.
- Can you name who wrote the article?
- Can you tell where the author(s) work(s)? (staff writer for the newspaper, analyst for a think tank, professor at a university, politician?)
- Why is this person an "expert"?
- Do you know anything about the person that may indicate that they have a bias? Are they representing an organization that may have a stake in the issue? Is the issue personal to the author?
- Who is expected to read the article: the public, other researchers, policymakers, students?
- How difficult is the article to read?
- Is the vocabulary fairly basic or is there a lot of medical/legal/scientific/theoretical language?
- Does the author provide a lot of background information so that anyone can understand the topic?
- Are you expected to already know the policies, research methods, laws, major issues discussed?
What is the Goal of the Article?
- Is it informative, opinion, propaganda, a sales pitch, or something else?
- Are multiple perspectives or points of view presented?
- Does the article explain events objectively?
- Is the author trying to present information from their own perspective?
- Is emotional language used?
- Are you being told what to believe?
- Are you being encouraged to take action?
- How recent do you need the information to be?
- Has anything happened between the time the article came out and the time you are writing that may change the facts of the article?
- Can you find more recent information with relative ease? If you can, why couldn't the author?
- Is there any evidence?
- If the author presents a statistic, a fact, or other evidence, does she/he also tell you the source of that evidence?
- What do you know about the source of the author's evidence? Is the source reputable? Biased? Has anyone heard of this source?
- Is there enough evidence?
- Can you cross-check the information elsewhere?
Purdue University's Online Writing Lab provides extensive information about evaluating sources. Take a look at their Evaluating Sources page for some additional guidelines for reading sources.