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Library DIY

I Do Not Know Which Sources Are Appropriate To Use

Evaluating Source Relevance

1. What is it about? The title will be your first immediate clue. If available, read the abstract (a summary of the article). If there is no abstract, read the article introduction and scan the article headings. Consider how the item relates to your research question and how you might use it.

2. What is the subject area focus? Knowing what discipline an article comes from can help you decide if the article is relevant. For example, if you are researching global warming activism for a political science class, an article on global warming from a chemistry journal may not be helpful if it doesn't focus on political issues. Look at the title of the book/article or the journal title to try to determine the subject area. 

3. Are you looking for recent information? If so, look carefully at publication dates.

4. What type of source is it? Consider what types of sources or information you need in order to answer your research question. 

For example, sometimes you may be asked to use only scholarly (or peer-reviewed) sources.

  • For scholarly books: Look at the publisher. (Is it a university press or other scholarly press? Do they describe their editorial process? You may need to Google the publisher to figure it out.)
  • For scholarly articles:
    • Look at the title of the journal (not the article title). Search for the journal title in Ulrich's to determine whether the journal is peer-reviewed (or "refereed").
    • Some databases will indicate in the results whether the article is scholarly or not, and in some databases, you can limit your search to just scholarly articles. However, some scholarly sources may not be labeled in the given database as such, so this method isn't perfect.
    • Peer-reviewed journals sometimes contain not only research articles, but also book reviews, editorials, interviews, and more. The type of article may be apparent from the information provided in a library database, but in some cases, you may need to read the abstract or the beginning of the article. When in doubt, look at your assignment instructions, ask your instructor, or Ask a Librarian.

Books and articles: Articles tend to focus on a very specific issue or analysis, while books usually address a broader topic. (Note, however, that some books consist of a series of article chapters.) Often the record in a library database will indicate the item type, but you can also tell from the citation. 

Research studies: This may only be relevant in courses which require that a specific type of research be used (quantitative, qualitative, experimental, systematic review, etc.). The abstract usually contains clues about the type of study. Most research study's also have a "Methods" section that describes how the research was conducted.