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Critical Skepticism: Critical Skepticism

Evaluation Checklist

Questions to Ask Yourself when Evaluating an Article

  • Is this written for a scholarly or technical audience?
  • Is the article appropriate for your needs?
  • Does the article explore one issue in detail?
  • Is the article free of errors?
  • Does it provide documentation? (Look for Footnotes, citations, or a bibliography)
  • Are the citations scholarly sources? (From books or journals rather than websites)
  • Can you determine any bias in the article?
  • Does the article have any funding disclosure statements? (Does this raise any issues of objectivity)
  • Is the author identified?
  • Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Are the authors credentials noted?
  • Is the publisher a university press, or other scholarly publisher?
  • Is the article written recently? 
  • Is it important to have recent information on the topic?
  • Does the article contain information  that supports your research?
  • Does the article have references that can point you to additional useful materials?

The answers to these questions will help quide your evaluation.

Check the authority of the article.  Articles with funding disclosure statements can be a red flag that the article may represent the objectives of the funder.  If an article is funded by an organization, foundation or group look into the funding organization.

Consider what is important to your specific needs. An article may not need to be recent for certain topics.  If you are doing a paper on cancer treatment currency is important, but for a paper on the Civil War, currency is not as important.

 

 

Evidence Pyramid

Evaluating Articles

The amount of information available to you is staggering, rather than being challenged to find enough information on your topic, your challenge is to find the best information for your research needs. The quality of information you will find is very uneven. While it is tempting to rely on Google for all of your information needs, using that databases and other tools provided by the library can be a faster, easier and more productive use of your time.

Evaluating the sources you find is an essential skill, requiring you to do a bit of detective work. You will need to look for clues that indicate that something is a solid source for academic research. When you are writing a research paper, you will evaluate your sources as you do yur research. 

The first thing to look for in a source to determine if it is a scholarly source is does it have citations? Citations or a bibliography allow you to see where the information is coming from, this enables you to check the information out more fully if you wish.  The next thiing you may want to look at is the name of the journal or the publisher of the book. If it passes these initial steps, you may begin to read the source. 

When you are reading the source you will be looking at it with an eye to evaluating it for the appropriateness for your paper.  Start by reading the abstract, this will give you an overview of what the expect in the paper. Is the language of the writing appropriate for the source?  is the tone appropriate for a scholarly source? Does the article back up its facts, or does it express opinions? Can you determine the qualifications of the author? Does the paper present information that goes along with other articles you have read on the topic or other things you know about the subject? All articles do not necessarily need to agree, but you don't want to trust information that seems wildly out of line with what is known about the issue. You want to make sure that clains are backed up with evidence. 

Evaluating sources is an important skill and you will want to take some time to evaluate sources before including them in your papers. It will save you a great deal of time in the long run, as well as leading to better grades.

As with everything, if you need any assistance, feel free to speak to a reference librarian. We are always happy to help.

How do I know?

Check your source for some of these signs:

Misleading Titles

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. Chocolate, bacon and Red Wine are not likely to be as good for you as the multitude of studies are claiming.

Inflating Benefits or Risks

A widely advertised new drug demonstrated FOUR TIMES  the weight loss of Placebo. What they don't say is that in a 58 week study the control group lost 1.5 lib, and the treatment group lost 6lbs. Hardly a dramatic result, 

Confusing correlation with causation

Many things go together but are not causative. Ice Cream sales and murders are correlated, but ice cream does not cause murder. 

For a delightful exploration of this see the website http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

 

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