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J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library

UN1015 Composition

Elements of an Article

When evaluating a source, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the components of that source. Knowing which components you'll see on a particular type of document can provide clues about the source you are seeing. Take a look at the first page of an article below, and roll over (or click) the red dots to see the labels on each part. This is a very typical scholarly article.

When evaluating a source, consider the elements you see and rhetorical strategies being used. These can give you clues about the type of document, it's purpose, and the intended audience. For example,

  • Are there decorative images instead of charts/graphs? It is probably not an academic source
  • Are there industry specific ads? It is probably a trade journal.
  • Does it say "journal" on it but there's no reference list? That's a red flag! Investigate further.
  • Is there a reference list but lots pictures that tug at the heartstrings? It's not typical to see an appeal to pathos in a scholarly source. Take a look at those references to see if they are credible.

Source Types

Knowing what type of resource you're looking at can help you evaluate the credibility and usefulness of a source. For example, if you want to know the current market trends impacting the logging industry, a scholarly journal article that took a year to go from research to publication might not be as helpful as a weekly trade publication on timber. Some examples of common source types you will see when searching:

 

  • A scholarly journal article is published in a scholarly journal and contains original research or thinking on a topic. It is written by experts in the field and often (but not always!) is peer reviewed.
    • Refer to facts, statistics, conclusions, and expert analysis found in these. Use the reference list for more sources!
  • A review article summarizes all the research on a particular topic. It is often published in a scholarly journal and may also highlight current gaps in that future researchers should explore.
    • May look similar to a scholarly journal article OR may be a section within one. Use for a broad overview of a concept, to know where the "gaps" are in the research, and as a comprehensive list of references to check out next.
  • An editorial is an opinion piece. It can be written by an editorial board, or by individuals. Editorials can be found in journals, newspapers, magazines, and more, so its credibility is often heavily based on the credibility of the publication it’s found in.
    • Use to better understand the arguments (pathos!) on a topic. For added credibility, look for editorials written by experts and published in scholarly journals.
  • A trade journal article is an article written for people working in the field. It often focuses on practical application of research, current news, and market information in a given field.
    • Use to understand the context of a topic or to understand how research is being applied. Also great for news. These exist for nearly every single field!
  • A magazine article is typically written for the general public. It may be long or short and may include both opinion and fact.
    • Use to learn the basics of a topic or learn key vocabulary. Discover names of relevant experts or institutes whose research you can investigate.

Short activity under construction!

Evaluating Credibility

There are many factors to consider when evaluating the credibility of a source. It can help to think laterally. Consider:

  • Where else can I confirm the information from this source?
  • Is that source I'm using for confirmation connected to the original source?
  • Do other credible sources cite this information?
  • How was the info in this source checked before publication?

Peer Review

Many (but not all) academic articles are peer reviewed prior to publication. This process looks a bit different in each field, but generally the peer review process follows these steps: 

  1. Researcher has completed their project
  2. Article (or an abstract/proposal) is submitted to a journal
  3. If the journal accepts, the researcher sends the full article when completed
  4. The journal sends it out to other experts in the field (often anonymized). Those experts make comments on the substance (methods, results, context, etc. -- not just editing for grammar!)
  5. The researcher makes the recommended changes before publication.

Evaluating Sources (video tutorial)

This interactive video tutorial explores different ways to evaluate a source (audio & cc available). The focus is on purpose, authority, and currency of a source.