|Information Need||Source Type||Where to Get It|
Websites (news, magazines, etc.)
|Research & Scholarly||Scholarly journals||
Google scholar (may not have full-text)
Periodicals can include newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and scholarly journals. Each type of publication serves a purpose and audience. Generally, you will want to use scholarly journals/peer-reviewed articles for your research papers, but magazines (trade or popular) may provide inspiration or examples to illustrate a point. For instance, you might use an article from Women's Health to demonstrate the information patients are reading regarding nutrition and weight loss and how it may be misinterpreted.
|Appearance||Glossy pages, lots of ads, illustrations||Glossy pages, illustrations, ads targeted to specific industry interests||Plain cover and paper, black and white graphics (rarely color), few to no ads|
|Audience||General public||Professionals, members of a particular industry||Researchers, professionals, educators|
|Content||News, general interest, personalities, entertainment||Industry trends and news, advice and techniques||Research studies, methodologies, theories, literature reviews|
|Authority||Articles written by staff writers, rarely in-depth, few to no references||Articles written by staff and freelance authors; few to no references||
|Accountability||Editorial review||Editorial review||Peer-reviewed/refereed by other experts in the field|
|Example Covers & Titles||
Journal of the American Medical Association
|Example Articles||"Ditch dieting, get healthy" - Shape||
Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week
|"Environmental and genetic pathways between early pubertal timing and dieting in adolescence: distinguishing between objective and subjective timing" - Psychological Medicine|
Peer-reviewed articles go through a rigorous validation process prior to publication. An article is submitted to a journal, it is reviewed by a panel of experts in that subject area to evaluate the research methods, results, and conclusions. This is why researchers (and your instructors) prefer peer-reviewed articles for research. Your instructors want you to find and use the best.
It also introduces you to the conversations in your field of study. Scholarly articles allow researchers to discuss their findings and anticipate and seek out new discoveries.
Use these guidelines to determine if an article is an empirical study.
Everyone - including you - has an agenda and perspective. This can affect how people form a research question, conduct research, analyze and present results, and choose to believe moving forward.
Questions to ask yourself:
Hint: Most articles will include brief information about the author, but you can also Google the person and affiliated institution to learn more. Search for the author in a database to find more research articles.
More questions to ask yourself:
Okay, you found an article in a library database - great! But how do you know this article is appropriate for your needs? Library databases contain a wide variety of articles, from newspaper articles and editorials to peer-reviewed research articles.
Regardless of whether your assignment calls for peer-reviewed articles or news items, you will need to evaluate your selected articles using the following questions.
Article abstracts or introductions in scholarly articles often tell you exactly the article's purpose. Look for these terms: aim, objective, purpose.
Abstract examples containing the article's purpose:
"Aim: to describe the timing, type and duration of initial infant contact and associated demographic and clinical factors in addition to investigating the impact of early contact on breastfeeding and maternal health and well being after birth."
This abstract highlights the article's purpose: to study the impact of skin-to-skin contact on breastfeeding and maternal health.
"With a large number of births occurring outside the formal health system, it is difficult to determine the number of pregnant women in rural regions of Liberia. The exponential growth of mobile phone use in developing countries provides a potential avenue for data collection on maternal and child health in such rural, remote regions ..."
This abstract implies its purpose: It introduces a problem (unknown number of pregnant women in rural regions) and a potential solution (using cell phones to collect data from birth attendants). The article will walk through the experiment and draw a conclusion about the findings.
Non-scholarly articles may not include an abstract, so you will need to read carefully and consider other criteria.
For college-level papers, information should be obtained mostly from scholarly journals. Why?
Trade magazines may be useful for topics in business or where economic data is needed. They are also good for learning what the current "hot topics" are in a profession or industry.
Popular magazines, such as Time and Newsweek, should be used sparingly, or not at all.
Review the types of journals here.
An article is only useful if the material is organized, focused, and relevant to your topic. When you read the article, do you understand it? Is it arguing a position, presenting original research, reviewing previous research, or is it an informative piece? Look for:
Check out the Anatomy of a Scholarly Article (links off site).
The importance of an article's publication date is subjective to the topic. Health sciences require current information, though seminal work (strongly influencing later developments) may be included.
A well-researched, well-written article is only useful if it addresses your research topic. It does not need to answer everyelement of your research, but you should ask yourself:
For what type of reader is the author writing for? This ties in with journal type, as popular magazines are geared to the general reader, trade magazines are for the specialist, and scholarly journals are directed at researchers, scholars, or experts in the field. The intended audience reflects the quality of information.
Ask yourself, is the article for:
WebMD is a lay website and written for general readers. Although health information in a WebMD article may contain accurate information and references to research studies, it does not provide the in-depth, data-driven information necessary for college papers and the clinical environment. It is a tool for consumers, not health providers.
Compare the differences on these migraine articles:
When information is collected or verified differently between study groups, detection bias may occur. This could result in over or underestimating a treatment's effectiveness or a cause-effect between a patient characteristic and an outcome (such as obesity and a cancer risk).
This article evaluates detection bias in a research study:
Wirtz, H. S., Calip, G. S., Buist, D. S., Gralow, J. R., Barlow, W. E., Gray, S., & Boudreau, D. M. (2017). Evidence for detection bias by medication use in a cohort study of breast cancer survivors. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(8), 661-671.
Blinding can help prevent potential bias. In drug trials, patients should not know which drug they are taking, nor do the study examiners know if patients taking the drug or the placebo (or Drug A vs. Drug B). However, it is possible that examiners may be familiar enough with the drug in question and potentially treat the participants or outcomes differently. Or blinding is not always possible, such as testing a new surgical procedure.
A lack of blinding can result in overestimating a treatment's effects.
Attrition bias occurs when participants leave study groups in an unequal or different way that disrupts the balance between samples. Participants who drop out of a study might exhibit different psychosocial factors than those who complete the study, which can bias the study's results. Similarly, participants in a treatment study might leave a study due to declining health (due to treatment or disease progression), but those who completed the study faired better and may influence the apparent "success" of the treatment.
More example scenarios can be found at CatalogofBias.org.
A study's design can create systemic or methodological errors in the results, causing under- or overestimation of an intervention's effect.
Bias can creep into research at any step of the process. It's not as simple as asking whether or not bias exists. You need to consider how well the researchers attempted to prevent bias.
Image from: Pannucci, C. & Wilkins, E.G. (2010). Identifying and avoiding bias in research. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 126(2), 619-625.
Sometimes you may need to use websites as sources. Potential uses for websites include:
Evaluating a website is similar to evaluating a journal article, but the information may not be as easily accessible and may require an extra critical eye.
Who is authoring and maintaining this website? How does this affect its purpose and content? Look for Mission Statements, About Us, and FAQs to learn more. If a site does not make it obvious who is behind it, move on to another source.
Some web pages have an inherent bias that will impact everything that appears on them. Is the author:
Another method of evaluating websites (and other sources) is the CRAAP test. This stands for CURRENCY, RELEVANCY, AUTHORITY, ACCURACY, and PURPOSE. It's simply a group of questions you should ask yourself when evaluating a resource.
CRAAP Test Activity
Use the worksheet below to evaluate the following sites: