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Boatwright Memorial Library

FYS 100: A Generation of Cynics (Cunningham & Guss): Evaluating Types of Sources

Evaluating Sources

The basic rules for evaluating a source for quality are the same as the "5 W's" of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who produced the document, image, video, sound file, etc. and what do you know about them, their credentials, and their motives?

What is the factual or emotional content of the source and does it reflect reality?

When was it produced and does that time frame alter its potential usefulness?

Where was it published and does that publisher evaluate sources before publishing them?  Does the place of publication reflect on the competence or impartiality of the source?  Is this a re-publication and, if so, where was it originally published?

Why was the item produced and published?  To educate?  To influence?  To sell something?  To promote the creator?

Characteristics of Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Popular Articles Scholarly Articles
  •  Are often written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience rather than scholars
  • Informational, rather than original research
  • Uses language easily understood by general readers
  • Articles tend to be shorter
  • Rarely give full citations for a source -- may be referenced in the article, or not at all
  • Advertisements unrelated to contents -- glossy photos
  • Most written by or for academics, researchers or scholars
  •  Uses scholarly or technical language
  •  Tend to be longer articles about research or research findings
  •  Includes full citations for sources, extensive bibliographies or reference lists
  •  Are often refereed or peer reviewed
  • Few advertisements or color photos.  Advertisements related to contents, such as other academic publications or subscriptions
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