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GEO314/513 Research Skills Guide: Evaluate

Evaluating Information

So, you have found articles, books and maybe even some web resources.

How can you tell whether your resources are suitable for your assessment? Have you been asked to use peer reviewed or refereed articles?

There is no definitive way to calculate the quality of an information source. However, there are certain indicators that, in combination, can help you determine if the source you are considering is reputable. There are many evaluation methods you can use to assess an information source. Many of these methods apply to journals and journal articles, which will likely be the most common resource type referenced in your research.

Evaluation Method: Used to Assess
CRAP test - see below Any resource type
Peer Review - see below Journals
Journal Ranking Journals
Citation Count Journal Articles

Note: When evaluating information sources another issue to consider is that of predatory publishing. Predatory publishing may involve charging authors a fee to publish their article without providing editorial and publishing services generally provide by legitimate journals. It is best to avoid predatory journals. For more information and a list of predatory journals please see: https://predatoryjournals.com/journals/ 

Check if the Journals are Peer Reviewed

Articles published in peer-reviewed or refereed journals have been through a formal approval process. An editor and one or more subject specialists review the article before it is accepted for publication. This process is intended to ensure that the article is accurate, well-researched, and contributes to the body of knowledge in the field.

While most databases offer a peer-review limiter, Ulrichsweb Global Periodicals Directory is the best place to confirm the peer-review status of a journal. This is because Ulrichsweb isn't like most databases - instead of collecting articles, Ulrichsweb is a specialised database that collects information about journals.

You can access this database from the Library's list of U-databases.

To check if an article comes from a peer reviewed journal:

  • Search for the journal title (not the article title) or the journal ISSN
  • Locate the journal on the results list
  • If there is a referee's jumper () in the column on the left it means the journal (and therefore the article) is peer reviewed. In the United States of America they refer to the peer review process as refereeing, hence the referee's jumper.

If you searched by journal title, you may get more than one result for the same journal. This sometimes indicates that there is both a hard copy and an electronic copy of this journal.

If you are unsure, you can always go back to the article record from your original search and get the journal's ISSN number from there. The ISSN is a unique number that is delegated to each journal.

Note that only the scholarly articles in a peer-reviewed journal will have been peer-reviewed. Other documents such as book reviews and opinion pieces will not have been peer-reviewed, and would not be considered "academic quality".

Peer Review Activity

You are required to use peer reviewed articles for your assessment task.

Open the Ulrichsweb database and check whether the articles you have found are from peer reviewed journals.

Remember to search using the journal title, not the article title.

Test your knowledge with this quiz

The CRAP Test

The C.R.A.P. test is a set of criteria you can use to evaluate most types of information sources, such as journal articles, books, and websites. Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the resource against the criteria of Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose.

Currency

  • When was it written?
  • Is it current enough for your topic? Older material might be ok for an essay about historical approaches to child welfare, but if your assignment is about social media and child protection, you'll need to keep it current!
  • Not sure if it is current enough? The rule of thumb is to use resources published in the past five years.
  • For web resources check when the page was last updated and if included links still work

Reliability

  • Is the source reputable? Is the journal peer-reviewed, or is the book published by an academic or professional press?
  • Is the content the author's opinion or have they offered evidence to support their argument?
  • Have they provided references to reputable resources?
  • For web resources look for an About Us to give you more information about who is the organisation that provided the information

Authority

  • Who is the creator/author?
  • Are they qualified to write about this topic?
  • Are there any experts in the field that you should look up?
  • For web resources, remember anyone can publish anything on the internet. Look for a Contacts page and avoid anonymous websites.

Purpose

  • Is this fact or opinion?
  • Is it biased?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the author trying to sell you something?

Evaluate internet resources

The type of domain provides you a hint as to the reliability of the website at which you are looking.

.edu (educational institution)

.gov (government)

These are more likely to be reliable and unbiased.

.org (non-profit organisation)

.asn (non-commercial organisation)

Sometimes these organisations can be biased toward one side of an issue that is actually quite complex.

.com (commercial site)

.net (network)

Try to avoid these sites as they are likely to be unreliable.

.net is the domain given to any site that doesn't fit into the other domain categories.

If you find a .com or .net site that you think is ok, look at the currency, reliability, authority and purpose to see if your suspicion is supported by evidence.

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