When you are working on your science research, it can be daunting at first to find sources to use. However, it is not as difficult as you might think! On this page, we will go over the different between different publication types, searching databases for articles, looking through the Library's catalog for books and ebooks, and evaluating websites to determine if they are trustworthy.
Your instructors will often ask you to use "peer-reviewed," "scholarly,' or "refereed" sources for your assignments. The three terms all refer to the same types of articles, which go through something called the peer review process.
These articles are preferred by your instructors and the scholarly community in general because the peer review process makes them more trustworthy than articles from non-scholarly journals and magazines. Authors can print anything they want in non-peer-reviewed journals and magazines, and their articles can contain bias, factual errors, or even outright lies!
Bias and errors in scholarly articles will be caught and fixed during the peer review process. The process is very rigorous. Here is how it works:
The easiest way to find scholarly articles is to look in the Library's databases. On the search page of the database, there will be an option to limit the search results to scholarly or peer-reviewed articles. Check that box, and all of your results will be scholarly. It's just that easy!
If you are trying to determine if a journal in print is peer reviewed, there are several clues. First, check the publication information. It is usually an entire page in the front or back of the journal, and has the publisher, editor, and other information printed on it. It will sometimes state that the journal is peer reviewed, but not always. If the journal has over a dozen editors listed, this is another clue that the journal is peer reviewed.
Other clues are that peer reviewed journals typically have no advertisements and have few or no full-color pictures. They usually have a lot of charts and tables, and are written in a very academic, formal style.
If you ever have any trouble finding a scholarly article or trying to determine if a journal is peer reviewed, contact a librarian!
The internet is full of useful information, but it is also full of false, outdated, and inaccurate information. When selecting websites to use in your research, you must evaluate the websites to make sure that they are good sources to use. An effective method of evaluating websites is called the CRAAP Test. This was developed by Sarah Blakeslee, a librarian at California State University. (More information and a citation for the test can be found at https://commons.emich.edu/loexquarterly/vol31/iss3/4/.)
CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. As part of the test, you consider each of those aspects while evaluating the website. It sounds like a lot, but becomes easy and natural after you do it a few times.
Currency: How current is the website? In other words, is it out of date? This will depend on what you're researching. If you are researching medical information or science, you want websites that are at most only a few years old. On the other hand, information on subjects like English and art that is a little older may still be useful. In short, the faster a field changes and grows, the newer you need your information to be.
Relevance: Does this site really apply to your research? It might appear to at first glance, but be careful. You'll need to read over the site to make that decision, as the site may cover your overall topic, but may not support the argument you are making in your paper.
Authority: Who is the author of the website, and are they an expert on the subject? The nature of the internet is that anyone can make a website on any subject they want. Some convincing-looking webpages may be written by people who are not really experts on the subject, or they may be biased. A good place to check is "About the author" sections on websites. They usually list the author's experience and credentials.
Accuracy: How trustworthy is the site? Do the authors give evidence for their arguments? Are their arguments one-sided or biased, or based on old information? The "About the author" is again a good place to check, and it may help to google the author's name to see if they are experts on the subject, or if they belong to any groups that support a one-sided agenda.
Purpose: What is the point of the website? Is it to inform, entertain, or persuade readers of a certain viewpoint? Or is the site trying to sell something? Ideally, for an assignment, you would want to use websites that inform. Although you cannot rely on it exclusively, one tip for evaluating the purpose of a website would be to look at its web domain type. Websites that end in ".com" or ".biz" are commercial sites that are more likely to sell you something or entertain you. Websites ending in ".org" are more likely to be informative, but they may be persuasive. And, finally, ".gov" and ".edu" sites are most likely to be informative, but you still need to evaluate them.
Using the CRAAP method to evaluate websites is a good way to ensure that you are getting good information. If you are still unsure about a site, however, feel free to contact a librarian. We are experts at evaluating information, and can help you to determine the appropriateness of a source.