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Source Types

What is a peer reviewed source?

Peer review is the process by which academic journals evaluate a paper which has been submitted for publication. The editor of the journal sends an article to the author’s peers (other researchers and experts in the same field of study), who evaluate the paper. They consider factors such as: is the data valid? are the conclusions sound? is the work original? is the author biased in any way? This process determines whether a paper is of a high enough quality to be published in the journal.

How can I find a peer reviewed source?

Library databases are an excellent source for finding peer reviewed work. Using the OneSearch tool or when searching an individual database, you can nearly always find a filter to limit your results to peer reviewed sources. If you have a particular journal in mind, you can use the eJournal Finder found on the Resources page to search that publication on its own.

How can I tell if something is peer reviewed?

The best way to identify if an article has been peer reviewed is to visit the journal’s website. Look at their About page, or a page called Information for Authors or something similar. This is where you will find information about their particular review process.

It is important to note that most academic journals publish some content in their issues that is not scholarly in nature and is therefore not subject to their peer review process. This can include Letters to the Editor, professional communications, or book reviews.

Research / Empirical Article

These are articles reporting original research, written by the person or people who conducted the research. This is one type of primary source, and is almost always published in a peer reviewed journal.

Review Article

Reviews summarize the information found in other research articles or experiments. These are written by experts in the field and are typically published in peer reviewed journals, but are not primary research. Because they synthesize, evaluate, and examine the original work of others, reviews are secondary sources.

Literature Review

The goal of a literature review is to provide a summary or overview of the existing literature on a topic. This can be a general topic or a very specific question. Literature reviews include what the author(s) identify as the key literature on a topic, they are not exhaustive.

Systematic Review

The goal of a systematic review is to answer a focused question through a thorough analysis of all relevant existing research. Systematic reviews are meant to be exhaustive, and are far more time-consuming and thorough than a literature review.

Meta-Analysis

A mathematical synthesis of the data from two or more research studies addressing the same hypothesis in the same way. These are sometimes included in systematic reviews, but not always.

Case Study

A detailed and in-depth examination of a particular instance or occurrence of something. In medicine, this may be clinically important cases of an illness or condition. In business, this may look at events happening at different companies.

Grey Literature

Grey Literature is research and other information which is produced by government, academics, business and industry in both print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishing. This can include government documents, theses and dissertations, conference papers and proceedings, research reports, data compilations, clinical trials, etc. Grey literature can be particularly helpful in situations where not much has been published on a topic yet, but it is important to note that this information has not been vetted through the peer review process.

When it comes to quality, not all sources are created equal. Some sources are more reliable than others, while some are outright unfit for use in a college-level assignment. This means diligence is required when evaluating resources, to ensure the use of only high-quality, reliable sources created by experts with established authority related to your topic.

The criteria below provide a popular way to evaluate a source. Currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose, are all contributing factors that must be examined when determining whether a specific source is fit for use.

Each category includes several questions that you can ask yourself when evaluating a source. The more negative answers, the less reliable that source is. There is no ‘threshold’ or specific number of negative answers that ‘disqualifies’ a source. Instead, you must rely on your intuition and experience evaluating other sources, to determine whether or not you think the source in question meets your standards.

Currency: The timeliness of the information

When was the information published?

Has the information been updated or revised?

Is the information current or out-of-date?

If there are links, are they functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

Does the information relate to the topic and/or answer the question?

Who is the intended audience?

Is the information designed for an appropriate level?

Have you looked at multiple sources before choosing this one?

Would you be comfortable using this source for your research assignment?

Authority: The source of the information

Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?

Are their credentials or organizational affiliations given?

If they are provided, what are they?

Ar the qualifications related to the topic they are writing on?

Is there contact information for the author?

If it’s a website, does the URL reveal anything about the source?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

Where does the information come from?

Is the information supported by evidence?

Has the information been reviewed or edited?

Can you verify the information from a different source?

Does it seem to be free of emotion and unbiased?

Are there spelling, grammar, or other errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists

What is the purpose of the information?

Does the author make their intentions or purpose clear?

Is the information factual? Opinion? Propaganda?

Does their point of view appear objective and impartial?

Are there any political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?