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ENGL 165 Wiley: Evaluating sources

Scholarly vs. popular sources

Instructors asking you to use credible sources may also use to evaluate your citations to see whether you use scholarly, academic or peer-reviewed, or popular. See the box below to determine whether a source is "scholarly" or "popular."


Have you P.R.O.V.E.N. that your source is a good one?

How do you judge whether a website is credible? Some of hallmarks of a credible website are:

  • Purpose: How and why was the source created?
    • Why does this information exist? To educate, inform, persuade, sell or entertain? Do the authors, publishers, or sponsors state this purpose, or try to disguise it?
    • Who is the intended audience? The general public, students, experts?
  • Relevance: The value of the source to your needs.
    • Is the type of source appropriate for how you plan to use it and for your assignment's requirements?
    • How useful it the information in this source, compared to other sources?
    • How detailed is the information? Is it too general or too specific? Is it too basic or too advanced?
  • Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information
    • Do the authors present the information thoroughly and professionally?
    • Do they use strong, emotional, manipulative or offensive language?
  • Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information
    • Do the authors support their information with factual evidence?
  • Expertise: The authority of the authors and the source
    • ​What makes the authors, publishers or sponsors of the source authorities on the topic?
  • Newness: The age of the information
    • Is your topic in an area that requires current information, such as science, technology or current events? Or could information found in older sources still be useful and valid?

Finding peer-reviewed, academic, scholarly articles in databases

Many of your college papers will require "peer-reviewed articles." The "peers" are experts in the same field as the author; for instance, physics professors will review a physics professor's article. A professor or other expert submits their article to the editor of a journal in their field. A psychology professor might submit an article to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. A physicist would submit a paper to  Applied Physics journalThe editors of these academic journals then ask  the authors' peers - other professors or experts in this field - to evaluate the submitted articles. Those experts then submit their comments and reviews back to the editor, who returns them to the author, who answers the criticisms and rewrites portions of the article to satisfy his "peer" reviewers.

Academic = scholarly or peer-reviewed

This lengthy editorial review explains why peer-reviewed journals - also known as scholarly or academic journals - usually publish only four times a year. Your instructors expect you to find peer-reviewed articles. This means using limiters to narrow your search results in databases to find these articles. Librarians can help you with this. Databases vary greatly and each offers different features. We can't cover them all here, but we can use a search in one of the more widely used databases as an example. Start from the library's homepage. and click on the "Articles" tab, shown in black in the illustration below. From the left drop-down menu, we'll use a database that includes nearly 4,000 full-text, peer-reviewed journals, Academic Search Complete, highlighted in blue, above.