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Biological Literature: Evaluating Resources

You as the Evaluator

The books, journal articles and web sites recommended for your course will already have been evaluated for their quality by your tinstructors. However, when you are asked to find your own information, you will have to judge its quality.  In this section you will learn how to critically evaluate the information that you use for your assignments.

Berkeley Library Quick Guide to Evaluating Sources

When you encounter any kind of source, consider:

  1. Authority - Who is the author? What is their point of view? 
  2. Purpose - Why was the source created? Who is the intended audience?
  3. Publication & format - Where was it published? In what medium?
  4. Relevance - How is it relevant to your research? What is its scope?
  5. Date of publication - When was it written? Has it been updated?
  6. Documentation - Did they cite their sources? Who did they cite?

adapted from:  Berkeley Library. Evaluating resources:  Home  https://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/c.php?g=83917&p=539735

Berkeley Library Slow Guide to Evaluating Resources

Authority

  • Who is the author?
  • What else has the author written?
  • In which communities and contexts does the author have expertise?
    • Does the author represent a particular set of world views? 
    • Do they represent specific gender, sexual, racial, political, social and/or cultural orientations?
    • Do they privilege some sources of authority over others?
    • Do they have a formal role in a particular institution (e.g. a professor at Oxford)? 

Purpose

  • Why was this source created?
    • Does it have an economic value for the author or publisher? 
    • Is it an educational resource? Persuasive?
      • What (research) questions does it attempt to answer?
      • Does it strive to be objective?
    • Does it fill any other personal, professional, or societal needs?
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is it for scholars?
    • Is it for a general audience?

Publication & format

  • Where was it published?
  • Was it published in a scholarly publication, such as an academic journal?
    • Who was the publisher? Was it a university press?
    • Was it formally peer-reviewed?‚Äč
  • Does the publication have a particular editorial position?
    • Is it generally thought to be a conservative or progressive outlet?
    • Is the publication sponsored by any other companies or organizations? Do the sponsors have particular biases?
  • Were there any apparent barriers to publication?
    • Was it self-published?
    • Were there outside editors or reviewers?
  • Where, geographically, was it originally published, and in what language?
  • In what medium?
    • Was it published online or in print? Both?
    • Is it a blog post? A YouTube video? A TV episode? An article from a print magazine?
      • What does the medium tell you about the intended audience? 
      • What does the medium tell you about the purpose of the piece?

Relevance

  • How is it relevant to your research?
    • Does it analyze the primary sources that you're researching?
    • Does it cover the authors or individuals that you're researching, but different primary texts?
    • Can you apply the authors' frameworks of analysis to your own research?
  • What is the scope of coverage?
    • Is it a general overview or an in-depth analysis?
    • Does the scope match your own information needs?
    • Is the time period and geographic region relevant to your research?

Date of publication

  • When was the source first published?
  • What version or edition of the source are you consulting?
    • Are there differences in editions, such as new introductions or footnotes?
    • If the publication is online, when was it last updated?
  • What has changed in your field of study since the publication date? 
  • Are there any published reviews, responses or rebuttals?

Documentation

  • Did they cite their sources?
    • If not, do you have any other means to verify the reliability of their claims?
  • Who do they cite?
    • Is the author affiliated with any of the authors they're citing?
    • Are the cited authors part of a particular academic movement or school of thought?
  • Look closely at the quotations and paraphrases from other sources:
    • Did they appropriately represent the context of their cited sources?
    • Did they ignore any important elements from their cited sources?
    • Are they cherry-picking facts to support their own arguments?
    • Did they appropriately cite ideas that were not their own?

adapted from:  Berkeley Library. Evaluating resources:  Home  https://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/c.php?g=83917&p=539735

Types of Sources

Popular: Sources published in newspapers and magazines intended for general audience. 

Scholarly: Well researched sources that have been written for scholars, students, and experts in the discipline area.

Peer Reviewed: Articles that have been evaluated by other professionals in the field to check for accuracy and adherence to disciplinary standards.

Scholarly vs Popular Sources

Peer Review

A peer reviewed or peer refereed journal or article is one in which a group of widely acknowledged experts in a field reviews the content for scholarly soundness and academic value.

You can limit your search results to Scholarly & Peer-Review materials in many library databases.

North Carolina State University Libraries explains the peer review process and its significance in research.

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