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How to Determine if an Article is Reliable

This guide will assist determining whether a source is reliable and if it matches the 'popular' or 'scholarly' designation.

Types of Sources

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Sources

Scholarly sources are your most reliable sources of information. They are written by researchers for other researchers and students. A scholarly article will present original research in a well-reasoned and logical way.

Scholarly Sources typically:

  • Contain many citations, either as footnotes or a bibliography
  • Have an abstract, especially if they are an article
  • Contain graphs, but no pictures
  • Are written in the language of the field (for example refer to an animal as F.S. Catus instead of kitty cat)
  • Are published by a professional or academic organization

Some databases also refer to them as peer-reviewed, academic, or referred. These are the types of resources you typically want to use when writing your paper, but they can be hard to read and understand if you haven’t done any background research. Most of your professors will require a certain number of scholarly sources for your papers so it’s important to understand what these sources look like and how to find them.

Professional or Trade Sources

Professional or trade articles and books are written by practitioners in the field about best practices and new research in a field. They will often summarize original research done by a scholar and describe how the research will impact practices in the field.

Trade sources typically:

  • provide news, trends, or practical information or examine problems or concerns in a particular field, trade, or industry
  • are written for practitioners of a particular field, trade, or industry
  • are written by professionals or freelance writers or creators with experience in a particular field, trade, or industry
  • usually, but not always list their sources

These sources are great for getting an idea of what’s going on in a field and what the newest research is so they are very helpful when doing background research. You can also use them to find additional articles as they often cite the more scholarly articles the writers used when creating the article. While these sources are typically considered to be scholarly, not all professors will consider them to be, so be sure to ask if you aren’t sure.

Authoritative Sources

Newspapers, magazines, and non-academic books can be broken into two different categories, authoritative and popular.

Authoritative sources typically:

  • are well established
  • focus on one or two major subjects
  • are written by journalists who have a track record of excellent reporting
  • undergo fact checking and editorial review
  • are written for a general, but well informed audience
  • have a mechanism for reporting errors
  • include some photos or ads
  • will indicate where information was located, but usually do not have a bibliography

These sources aren’t considered scholarly, but are preferred by professors for your non-scholarly articles. When doing background research on a topic you are unfamiliar with, these types of sources are great at helping to introduce you to a topic and its jargon and help you understand its history and current issues.

The newspapers, magazines, and books in this category may be useful for background research, but are not appropriate for scholarly research.

Popular sources typically:

  • are written to entertain
  • cover many subjects very generally
  • are written by journalists
  • may undergo fact-checking and editorial review
  • have lots of photos and ads

These sources are fun to read and may help you get interested in a topic, but they are not appropriate for college level research. 

Websites and blogs

Websites and blogs can be reliable or unreliable, hoaxes or sincere misinformation. Researchers and other experts often use blogs as a way to share their knowledge with the general public, but anyone with computer access can do so too, to further any agenda they want. Online news sources are particularly notorious for false information. It's up to you to evaluate the quality of what you find online.

Reliable websites typically:

  • include an author and their credentials
  • have information about who is sponsoring the website
  • tell you how to get ahold of the author/sponsor
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