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HI 1314: Introduction to Early American History: Evaluate Your Sources

Professor Steven C Bullock

Source Types

Source types make up the scope of the literature you are searching. Common source types for historical research include:

  • Books that encompass a single work
  • Books that incorporate multiple works (collections of papers by historians)
  • Peer-reviewed journal articles 
  • Primary sources

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly/Academic Sources Popular Sources
Examples: Peer-reviewed journal articles and books/book chapters Magazines and newspapers 
Author is usually:

Scholar in field, academic, or researcher  

Staff writer, journalist, often a generalist

Credit/Sources: Always include many citations, which are formatted using an academic citation style   

Do not always cite sources; citations may be informal

Length: Articles and chapters are typically 10+ pages Usually brief 
Advertisements: Usually do not contain ads Usually have ads 

Peer-Reviewed Journals

Peer-Review Definition

Peer-review: "A process by which a scholarly work (such as a paper or a research proposal) is checked by a group of experts in the same field to make sure it meets the necessary standards before it is published or accepted."

  - Merriam Webster, 

What are "peer-reviewed" journals?

A peer-reviewed journal is a respected academic publication. Before articles are published within these types of journals, they are sent by the editors of the journal to other scholars in the field ("peers"), often anonymously, to get feedback on the quality of the scholarship, review research methods, as well as relevance or importance to the field. The article may be accepted, often with revisions suggested, or rejected for publication. Peer-reviewed journals often have low acceptance rates. Peer-reviewed journals are viewed as respected and credible sources of information. 

One way to find peer reviewed articles is to type your keywords into WPI Library Search, and then choose the filter for Peer-reviewed Journals. You can also search our Databases (organized by subject) for peer-reviewed articles.

Characteristics of Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Authors are:  scholars in the field, academics, or researchers.
Sources are: always cited with many references and/or footnotes.
Articles are: long; usually don't have ads.

Peer-Review Video

Run Time: 2:52

  • What is Peer-Review? (0:10)
  • The Impact of Peer-Review Processes (0:50)
  • The Peer-Review Process (1:39)
  • Locating Peer-Reviewed Articles via the Gordon Library (2:25)

Evaluation is a Process

The Important Questions of Evaluation: Digging Into Your Sources (3 Levels)

The 5 Ws (and one H) The Surface-Level Questions The Deeper Questions



Who is the author, editor, or creator? Is the author qualified to write about this topic? 

Who is the publisher?

What makes them qualified? First-hand experience? An advanced degree?



What type of document is it? For example, is it a newspaper article? A blog? A government website? A scholarly article? A book?  

What is it about?

There is no 'bad' type of document, but some have gone through a more rigorous review process than others.



When was this source published? Is the publication date appropriate for your research? 

The 'up-to-date'-ness of a source matters more for some research questions than others. 



Where did the authors get their information from? Did they include citations? 

What types of sources do the authors cite?



What was the goal of the author or publisher? 

Who is the intended audience? Is the goal to communicate information to a scholarly community or to the general public?
How? How was the work reviewed before publication? Was the work peer-reviewed (reviewed by other experts in the same academic discipline?)


These questions are designed to help you evaluate the sources you find. Consider if a source is appropriate for the kind of research you are doing.

Evaluating sources is an ongoing activity you will do throughout your research, and it includes evaluation of your own search process. As you search, pay attention to the keywords and phrases you are using. Are you looking for information that will only confirm what you already suspect, or are you looking for possibly contradictory or opposing information as well? Do you have any 'go-to' sources that you use to find information? Are you looking in too narrow or too broad an area for information?