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HI 2315: The Shaping of Post-1920 America - Prof. Megan Sethi: Evaluation Strategies

Prof. Megan Sethi

Use the tabs below to find information of different types of sources, tips on how to evaluate sources, and a source evaluation activity.

Search & Evaluation Strategies

Source Types

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

  • Books that encompass a single work
  • Books that incorporate many works (such as a collection of essays by scholars)
  • Journal articles (often peer-reviewed)
  • 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 many references and/or footnotes          

Rarely cites sources, original sources may be obscure

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

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary sources are materials that provide firsthand testimony to a subject under investigation. Primary sources include letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. Primary sources also include writings and recordings by witnesses who experienced the events or conditions being documented. For example, oral histories, autobiographies, and memoirs are primary sources.

Secondary sources discuss an event, a person, or other historical topic from a more recent perspective. Authors of secondary sources analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information from primary sources. Secondary sources most often take the form of books, book chapters, and journal articles.

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 and research methods, as well as relevance or importance to the field. The article may be accepted, often with revisions suggested, or rejected for publication. Many peer-reviewed journals have low acceptance rates.

One way to find peer reviewed articles is to type your keywords into WPI Library Search, and then choose the filter on the left for Peer-reviewed Journals.

You can also search our Databases for peer-reviewed articles.

Peer-Review Video

Run Time: 2:52

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • 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)

Source Evaluation

The 5 Ws and H is one technique that can help you evaluate your sources to determine if the sources are appropriate to use in your research project.

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

 

Who?

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?

Is the publisher known for academic or commercial publications? 

 

What?

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. Is the type of document you found appropriate for the type of research you are doing?

Is the information in the document relevant to your research topic?

 

When?

When was this source published? Is the information up-to-date? 

The 'up-to-date'-ness of a source matters more for some research questions than others. Is the publication date appropriate for your research?

 

Where?

Where did the authors get their information from? Did they cite their sources?

What types of sources did they cite?

 

Why?

What was the goal of the author or publisher? To communicate with other scholars? To educate? To entertain? To raise money? 

Who is the intended audience? Scholars? The general public?

 

How?

How was the work reviewed before publication?

Was the work subject to peer-review or a similarly rigorous review process?

 

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? Are you searching in a variety of places for information? Try to use at least 3 different databases in your research to help you find a variety of sources and perspectives.

Source Evaluation Activity

Look at the following sources, and think about how you might use each source for a research paper on World War II. As you look at each source, consider:

  • Who is the author? What are their credentials?
  • When was the source published? Is this a primary source or a secondary source?
  • For an article: Was it peer-reviewed? 
  • For a book or book chapter: Who is the publisher? Do they publish materials for a scholarly audience or a popular audience?
  • Are citations provided?
  • How would you use this source in your research? Would you cite this source in your paper? Or would you use this source for background information and ideas for what to research?

Depending on the source, some of these questions will be more relevant than others. Don't worry if you can't answer all of the questions. 

Activity Discussion

Source 1:

  • This source is from History.com and discusses the stock market crash on 1929.
  • It is written by the History.com editors. We don't know much about the authors of the source.
  • The source was last updated in 2022 and is a secondary source.
  • There are no citations.
  • History.com is known for the History television channel, which creates entertainment and is aimed at a popular, rather than scholarly, audience.
  • This source would be a good place to start to find some concepts (people, places, etc.). You can use these concepts to help you choose keywords to search for in academic databases.
  • Citing this source would not lend credibility to your paper and may even take credibility away from your paper, so just use it as a jumping off point for understanding your research topic and finding relevant vocabulary to search for. 

Source 2:

  • This source is an article that discusses the history of the New York Stock Exchange leading up to the crash of 1929.
  • The author is Julia C. Ott. In the article, the author bio says that Ott is an assistant professor of history at Eugene Lang College and the New School for Social Research. A Google search for Julia C. Ott brings up their New School profile, where we learn that they have a PhD from Yale University.
  • The source is from 2009 and is a secondary source.
  • This source is an article from The Journal of American History, which is a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Numerous citations are provided throughout the article in the form of footnotes. 
  • This is an academic secondary source that can be cited in your paper. 

Source 3: 

  • This source is a book about the stock market crash of 1929. 
  • The author of the book is Maury Klein, Professor Emeritus at the University of Rhode Island. He has a PhD. from Emory University, and he taught United States history at URI for 44 years.
  • This source was published in 2001 and is a secondary source.
  • The publisher is Oxford University Press, which publishes books for a scholarly audience. 
  • Numerous citations are provided in the form of endnotes and a bibliography. 
  • This is an academic secondary source that can be cited in your paper. 

Source 4:

  • This source is a newspaper article about the stock market crash of 1929. 
  • There is no author listed for this article. 
  • The article was published on October 30, 1929, shortly after the stock market crash. It is a primary source. 
  • The article is from The New York Times, a reputable newspaper. 
  • There are no citations provided, which is typical for a newspaper article. 
  • This is a primary source that can be cited in your paper.