This is the fourth of seven video modules in Langara Library's Can I Use This? Evaluating Your Sources Tutorial. This video examines the "What" criteria of the 5Ws. Use this criteria to determine what kind of source you are looking at; whether it is scholarly or popular, and how you can tell the difference.
We also need to consider what kind of source we are thinking of using. If you find something you think will be a good source for your assignment, ask yourself the following questions:
There are some tips and tricks you can use to figure out whether you are looking at a popular or scholarly source.
First, read a bit of the source and pay attention to the kind of language the author is using. Is it conversational or technical? Would it be easy for an average, uninformed reader to comprehend, or does it use discipline specific terminology that average readers will not understand? Popular articles are written for the general public, meaning that they will often use clear and easy language. Scholarly articles are written by and for researchers. The language may be highly technical and assume that the reader already knows something about the topic.
You can also look to visual elements like pictures or graphics for hints. Popular articles often use graphics purely for visual appeal to make the article more eye-catching. Scholarly sources, on the other hand, use graphics to illustrate findings or analyze particular elements of their research. If you are unsure about what kind of source you are looking at, you can always ask a librarian or your instructor for help.
If you have determined that you are looking at a website or a blog post, you may want to try to see if the information has gone through some kind of editing process. Anyone can post content to the internet. If you find a lot of spelling or grammatical errors on a site, that might suggest that the information has not been reviewed or edited in any way. Even if you have determined that the source is the type you need, you should still consider whether or not it fits with your research question. Is the information at the appropriate level for your research? Does it add to your discussion of the topic or are you stretching to find relevancy? For example, if your instructor asks for a general overview of a topic, a detailed scholarly article may not be the best fit. You may be better off reading books or encyclopedia entries for these kinds of assignments.
Our next example is an article we found through the library's Quick Topic search. This search will return books, media, and both scholarly and popular articles from the library's databases. Let's use the same research topic and see what we find. Let's take a closer look at this source from our search results and decide what kind of source we are really looking at. There are many different types of sources from one topic - it's up to you to choose appropriate source types for your assignments. With the help of a few clues, we can tell that this source is a peer-reviewed scholarly article.
Peer-review is a long-standing scholarly process in which experts from the field anonymously review an article before it is accepted for publication. These experts, or referees, will asked a number of questions to assess the quality, accuracy, and integrity of the work, and determine whether the article contributes to the scholarly conversation about a particular issue. Googling the title of the journal may help you determine whether the journal is a peer-reviewed publication.
If you'd like to learn more about the peer-review process, visit this page for more information.
Above the title of the article, we can see that this article was published in a journal called Environmental Pollution. The journal is not one that is immediately recognized as a popular magazine like Time, Newsweek, or National Geographic. The journal is focused on a very specialized topic. We found this article through a library database called ScienceDirect. This is one of the many scholarly databases that Langara library subscribes to. The authors' credentials are listed directly below their names. We can see that they are affiliated with the school of medicine at a University. This article has an abstract, which is a summary of the articles main findings. Scholarly articles can range from a few pages to the length of a book chapter. The abstract allows you to quickly determine if an article will be of use for your assignment. Finally, if we read a bit of the abstract we can see that the language is highly technical and is clearly meant for other researchers in the field - like you.
When conducting research, you need to consider the type of sources in your results. Your choice will depend both on your information need and the assignment requirements laid out by your instructor.
In the next module, we will introduce the third W - where - which asks us to think about where the author got his or her information.