Reading and Evaluating Sources
While scholarly sources are often deemed credible because they come out of a rigorous process of peer review-before-publication, we should still take time to examine and evaluate such sources before we use them. Yes, even scholarly sources contain embedded biases!
How prolific is the author in his or her field? Has he or she written extensively on the topic that is addressed in this paper? Often you can check the List of References to see if the author has any previous publications on the topic addressed in the current paper. If so, that could be an indication of the author’s long term commitment to this research topic or question.
Sometimes articles will be labeled in academic databases as “scholarly articles” even though they are only a couple of pages long. If your article seems rather short and does not follow the general structure of a scholarly article (Abstract, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, List of Works Cited), then is it a relevant or credible source for the purposes of your assignment? Is there a more thorough or detailed source that you could use?
Date of Publication
How current is the article? If you are looking for a historical perspective on your topic, then an older article may be useful. But if you need current information and your article is 10 or 15 years old, is it as relevant and useful for your assignment?
A note on publication bias
You can find many articles indicating that a bias exists in academic publishing. This publication bias means that only certain types of research studies get published in academic journals. In the sciences, the publication bias favors studies that have positive results (“we got some results!”) rather than negative results (“this did not work as we had hypothesized”). In the Arts and Humanities, some have argued that prestigious academic journals favor articles that come from professors at elite colleges and universities. Other speculation about publication bias in academic journals focuses on the bias in the peer reviewer: that a peer reviewer is more likely to accept an article for publication if that article confirms his or her own thinking.
Additional Reading on Evaluating Scholarly Sources
Joe Moxley’s article “Questions to Evaluate the Authority of the Researcher’s Methods,” is an excellent resource for thinking about how to approach a critique of scholarly work. This article can be found by clicking on the hyperlink above and by going to directly to the Writing Commons website.