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Research Basics

Develop a topic, use the library catalog and databases, evaluate and cite sources.

Why is it important to evaluate sources?

The Scholarly Conversation

Academic writing is part of the scholarly conversation, which consists of published material about a particular topic.

  • Online scholarly discussions
  • Scholarly conferences
  • Conference proceedings

Joining the Conversation

When you begin a research project you become part of the conversation.

You enter the conversation by reading and responding to the works of others. Your research is your response and your voice in the conversation. To ensure that your voice is valid and significant your own research should be:

  • Pertinent
  • Verifiable
  • Accurate

Standard evaluation criteria: questions to ask


  • Who is the intended audience of the source?
  • Is the information at the appropriate level for your needs?
  • Does it answer your research questions?


  • When was the information published?
  • Is there a more recent edition?
  • Is the information current enough for your topic?
In general, for medicine, health, science, and technology your sources should be no more than 5 years old. For art, history, and literature, sources that are no more than 20 years old may be preferred.


  • Who is the author or publisher?
  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • What are their credentials or institutional affiliation?
  • Is there a logical relationship between author or publisher and the information?
  • Is there contact information for the author or publisher?
Authority is constructed and contextual. A specialist without an advanced degree who has training and experience may be a better authority than someone who has an advanced degree but little expertise.


  • What is the purpose of the information? (persuade, entertain, inform, teach)
  • Is the information supported by facts or data?
  • Is the information impartial? (If not, is the other side represented?)
If your assignment is by nature persuasive or debatable, it is acceptable to use sources that show a clear bias, but these source should be balanced by others that represent the opposing viewpoint.

Editorial review

The editorial review process is crucial to a source's overall credibility. The greater the number of reviewers, and the more time spent on the review process, the more credible a source is likely to be. Let's look at some common information sources and consider them in light of these criteria.

Peer Review

College research assignments often require that you use peer reviewed sources. During the peer-review process an author's work is scrutinized by experts in the same field (peers) as the author. This process ensures the academic quality of the work and of the information it contains.

Editorial Review & Quality Control

The table shown below details the amount of time typically spent on review, plus the number of reviewers commonly assigned to the editorial review process, for a number of different types of information sources. Educational and academic resources are subject to much more editorial scrutiny, so the information they contain is more trustworthy for academic research.

Publication Type
Time in Review
Number of Reviewers

social media

seconds or minutes none
newspapers hours 1-2
magazines & trade journals days 1-2
scholarly journals months 3-4
academic books 6-12 months 3-4
encyclopedias 3+ years 3-4
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