Librarian Kevin Seeber recommends focusing on the creation process of information to determine its credibility.
We also recommend that you use this process to identify and evaluate research studies. Seeber suggests considering several factors of the research and publication process to determine information type: the time it took to research and publish the piece, the amount or quality of research conducted before writing it, the editing process, the length of the piece, and how easy or difficult it was to create the piece. You could use a scale that considers all these factors to determine how the different information sources you encounter, like tweets, Wikipedia postings, articles of all types, and books, stack up against each other.
Chances are you are doing a version of this already. In other words, determining why and for whom the information is published. The below is based on her responses. Why and for whom did the Asbury create this article?
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While her colleague Adam Lang monitored the police scanner, Asbury headed to the scene to witness events and gather information to inform her questions for police. The police spokesperson responded in the middle of the night, and Asbury followed up with the spokesperson before publishing the article in the morning. It is important to note, however, that the story continued to unfold after Asbury published her article. The article is 96 words. Breaking news stories are often shorter because there is scant information as a story unfolds. She and her colleague Lang wrote and edited it through Slack before the editor-in-chief edited and published the article.
Asbury found researching this article took a bit longer than usual. To recap: Asbury started at 10 pm with the police scanner, and then took a nap after staying up until 2 am to communicate with police. After she woke up at 9 am, it took her about five minutes to polish off the article. Ease of creation.
Because the story continued to unfold after Asbury published her piece, however, there may be more current information about the shooting and the police investigation. Finally, the article is not an in-depth piece because Asbury needed to publish it quickly. There may be other information sources that provide a deeper understanding of related topics, such as the crime rate in Lawrence. To gain such deeper understanding of a topic, you will need to consult sources that have been developed over time and with more research.
So, next, we use the same evaluation criteria to assess a peer-reviewed article. It is important to note that you do not have to speak with the author directly to evaluate a source type. Consider the differences between these two sources, and why your professors insist that peer-reviewed sources are good sources of information. Most peer-reviewed articles are pretty lengthy. Peer-reviewed articles may have an abstract, introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. Not all of the sections may be present or labeled such in every article, especially if it is a humanities article.
But all of these sections and the works cited or references sections can add up to 15 or 25 pages. Our Eyewitness article is shorter than the typical length. It is 13 pages of heavy text and citations. The authors of peer-reviewed articles must be transparent about the research they document. They usually will list the works cited or consulted at the end of their articles, and fill their pages with footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations. They do this to properly credit ideas to their original authors, and to demonstrate their own knowledge of a larger scholarly conversation.
Other indicators of research in a peer-reviewed article may be a literature review and a discussion section of the findings. If an experiment or another measurement was conducted, there will be details of the research methods, and tables and charts illustrating the results. While all peer-reviewed articles will cite other works to prove that they are engaged with a scholarly conversation, these other elements may not be present or clearly labeled.
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What matters is that there is evidence that the author conducted research. There are in-text citations and more than a page of references.
Although scholarly articles may typically have distinctly labeled sections for the literature review and discussion, Blom uses subject headings instead. Blom really begins his discussion under Eyewitness Issues in Textbooks. After researchers write, re-write, self-edit, and ask a buddy to look over their article or book, they often submit it for publication at a university press or in an academic journal. At least two other experts in the same field, called referees or reviewers, read the manuscript. This is called a double-blind peer review.
Evaluating Information Sources
Once they have read the manuscript, the referees tell an editor or publisher to reject, revise, or accept the article or book for publication. Acceptance rates at many peer-reviewed journals are as low as 5 or 10 percent. If the manuscript is accepted for publication, a copy editor then edits the article or book for writing mechanics and style. The publishing company that owns the journal or publishing house then prints or disseminates the work. These publishing companies often are large conglomerates, like Springer and Elsevier more on them later.
The Eyewitness article is published in a journal as opposed to a magazine, which usually means that it is probably peer-reviewed, and that it probably followed all of the steps we just listed. On this page, we find information about the journal that identifies it as peer-reviewed.
Based on all of these policy pages, we can safely conclude that the authors and reviewers did a lot of editing, both before and after the authors submitted the article to the journal, which was published and disseminated by SAGE. You can only imagine how many naps authors have to take when they are living through the peer review and publication of their research. The publication process of peer-reviewed research may take years. Because academics want to make certain that they know what they are talking about before they put it before a scholarly audience, who will go over the work with the most fine-toothed comb you have ever seen.
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So after researchers have spent at least a year developing and writing an article, it will go through the peer-review process, which can easily add another year. As a rough estimate, it can take at least two years to create a scholarly article. For a scholarly book, multiply that number a few times. There are often clues in the article about how long it took the author to write it.
For instance, they may mention what year they started conducting experiments. Plus, several journals will note when an article was first submitted for publication, how long it took the author to revise it, and, of course, the publication date. You can use this evidence to piece together a timeline. How about our Eyewitness article? The author did not conduct an experiment and there is no notation of acceptance and revision dates. As a result, we are going to have to read between the lines.
The best way to do this is to consider how much research Blom conducted to write the paper. If we flip to the end of the article, we can read a list of references that runs over three pages. Additionally, by scanning the article, we can discover more clues. In his introduction, Bloom wrote about his research process. First, he started with Google and had to sift through those results. On the contrary, finding zero results his first try means that he had to work even harder to locate three pages of resources.
There, we discover that the author read 20 textbooks. In most semesters, you probably read about textbooks a semester. Bloom likely did not read the entire textbook, though. Instead, he probably just read the sections that pertained to his research, so maybe he could bust through 20 textbooks in a semester or two.
But what qualifies as evidence or as a reliable source is different in different disciplines, and sometimes among different courses in the same discipline. Scholarly sources are those that have been approved by a group with recognized expertise in the field under discussion. Books published by University Presses fall into this category, as do articles published in peer-reviewed journals—journals where the editors send pieces out to be read by experts in the field before deciding to publish them.
The Yale library subscribes to several databases that specialize in scholarly sources such as Academic Search Premier. See Databases for more information. If you use sources for facts or ideas in your writing, some research projects will demand that you rely heavily if not exclusively on scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are not infallible, but their publication process includes many steps for verifying facts, for reducing political bias, and for identifying conflicts of interest for instance, for informing readers when a drug company has funded research on its own product.
In a narrow sense, every other source could be called a popular source.
But this does not mean that all popular sources are of equal reliability. Nor does it mean that you should use only scholarly sources for all of your writing at Yale. Depending on the research context, some projects will permit a mix of scholarly and popular sources. In a history seminar about World War II, you would usually be expected to consult the most definitive, academic studies of the period.
But a trade paperback issued by a major publisher may be sufficient. To understand this difference, it may help to recognize that when you write for a departmental class, you are writing for an audience more expert than the common reader.