Techniques for evaluating information sources. This session was offered during the 2012/2013 academic year.
Primary sources of information are original materials that often convey new ideas, discoveries, or information. These sources originate from the time period under study. Examples of primary sources include:
TIP: What is considered primary, secondary, or tertiary information may vary according to your field of study. When in doubt, ask your professor.
Secondary sources of information are based on primary sources. They are generally written at a later date and provide some discussion, analysis, or interpretation of the original primary source. Examples of secondary sources include:
Tertiary sources of information are based on a collection of primary and secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include:
This video by the Cooperative Library Instruction Project defines and demonstrates the differences between primary and secondary sources in several different scholarly disciplines. It includes a quiz so that you can apply what you have learned.
TIP: In academic research there is a clear preference for refereed or scholarly material. However, there is also a role for non-scholarly material since it often reflects contemporary thought and is popular. Also, there may be little scholarly material available on a given topic. If you use sources such as newspapers or popular magazines, clearly point out that your information reflects a "commonly accepted position" but is "difficult to verify or refute".
In academic research considerable emphasis is placed upon using scholarly materials. You may also see the terms academic, peer reviewed or refereed used to describe scholarly materials.
Scholarly, academic, refereed, or peer-reviewed journal articles:
TIP: When you are searching a journal database: Look for peer-reviewed or refereed in the record for the article. Some journal databases allow you to limit your search to this type of publication OR search for the journal title in Ulrichsweb.com to see if the journal is refereed.
Popular magazine articles:
TIP: This page produced by UBC Library provides a useful comparison of the differences between scholarly and popular articles. Popular articles are usually considered secondary literature (one exception might be in the discipline of History).
This video by the Cooperative Library Instruction Project is intended to teach students the differences between popular and scholarly articles. It includes a quiz to test your knowledge.
This video by the Cooperative Library Instruction Project teaches students how to effectively evaluate sources that they find on the Internet, including how to find a webpage's author, its potential biases, objectivity vs personal opinion, accuracy of sources, and currency of information.
The PowerPoint presentation that was used in this module is posted below. Please note: that the images have been removed due to copyright restrictions.
Unfortunately, there are some "journals" that mascarade as legitimate open access publications but are in fact fraudulent scams. They exploit the author-pays model of open access publishing for their own profit.
Please check these lists to ensure you do not publish your research in an unreputable journal!
Please check the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) for a list of reputable open access journals.
Articles published in reputable journals are sometimes retracted after publication. Retractions can be made for many reasons including: errors made in the article, or fraud/misconduct on the part of the author(s).
Retraction Watch is a blog set up to monitor and publicise articles that have been retracted - and the reasons behind the retraction.
In this exercise, please work with the people beside you. I would like you to compare and contrast the three different types of sources that I have handed out. Based on the layout of the journal, an individal article and a quick scan of the content, make comments on the following components: