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HI 2332: History of Modern American Science and Technology: Evaluating Sources

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?

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

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

 

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.

 

When?

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?

Where did you find the source? A library database? A website?

For websites, what is the URL ending? For example, .com? .gov? .org? .edu? 

There is no 'bad' type of source, but sometimes source types can give you a better idea of where to find certain types of content.

 

Why?

What was the goal of the author or publisher? Is there bias? 

Bias does not necessarily negate credibility. We all have biases. The question then becomes: are those biases disclosed? Do they impact the quality of the information?

 

How?

How did the author(s) gather data and information? Did they include citations? Did they derive reasonable conclusions from the research?

Did the author(s) only cite themselves/their associates? How well did they explain their process? Was their work reviewed by anyone else?

 

Many of these questions will NOT (a) be easy to find answers to and (b) tell you that the source you are reading is 100% credible, but they are still important to ask. Digging into a source itself and finding out more about it is part of the research 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? 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? 

Activity

Consider the questions above as you examine the following sources. Use these questions to help you determine how you would use each source in your research process. Would you use the source for background information? As a historical primary source? As an academic secondary source? Would you cite the source in your paper?

Peer-Reviewed Journals

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 are highly respected, and researchers wish to have their works published in them. Many often have low acceptance rates.

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

Types of Sources

Type of Source

Examples

Where to Find

Characteristics

Uses

Reference/Background Information

Encyclopedias, some websites

Library Databases, Google Search

Provides a factual, non-analytical overview of a topic

 

Sometimes has references

Find ideas to narrow down your topic; find concepts, keywords, dates, and historical figures related to your topic

Primary Source

Documents from the period you are studying, such as letters, diaries, news articles, government documents, pictures, videos, oral histories, etc.

Library Databases

 

Library, museum, and government websites

 

Books

Provides first-hand account of an event or movement

Understand how people reacted to the events and movements you are studying

Books/Book Chapters

 

WPI Library Search, Worldcat.org

Some are more scholarly than others – check the author’s credentials

Some have one author; some are collections of essays written by scholars. 

Might be a scholarly source; Usually a secondary source but might be a collection of primary sources 

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

 

Library Databases

Scholarly; has gone through peer-review

Scholarly source; secondary source

Book review

 

Newspapers, magazines, peer-reviewed journals

Although book reviews are often written by scholars and are often published in peer-reviewed journals, they have not gone through the rigorous peer-review process described above

Find information about books related to your topic