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Searching the Literature

About Evaluating & Selecting Sources

Once you have some sources, you can figure out how they fit your topic, and your assignment requirements.

These are some steps you can take to make sure you are evaluating your sources and selecting the best ones for your assignment.

Talk With Your Instructor

Before you begin

Before you begin looking for articles, have a clear sense of the assignment and your professor's expectations.

  • What sort of sources are required or allowed?
  • How many will you need?

If you are not sure, ask your professor. A librarian can help you to locate proper sources and/or help you to review the sources you have found.

Think about what you need

If you have free rein over the types of resources to use for a paper, think about what you need:

  • Does it need to be current and topical?
  • Does it need to be verified by scholars in the discipline?
  • Does it need to be as unbiased as possible?

Choose source types on these bases, with a critical eye.

Learn About Scholarly, Trade, and Popular Sources

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are often required for college level research.  They have the highest level of authority, as they are written by experts in the discipline, generally PhDs.  Many but not all of them are peer-reviewed, also known as refereed. In the peer-review process, articles are scrutinized by a panel of experts to verify accuracy, validity, and value to the profession.


  • Scholarly sources are written by experts – a PhD. affiliated with a college or university, for example.
  • Scholarly sources include a long list of citations or references at the end of the work.

Trade Sources

Trade journal articles are written by those practicing in the field. The authors may be nurses, teachers, managers, engineers, etc. The purpose for the journal is to share information and practical strategies among people who are working in a profession. They are less lengthy and may have a few or no references at the end.

Popular Sources

Popular sources are those written by journalists or freelance writers. They are meant to appeal to the general public, often with sensationalized titles, glossy photos and illustrations, and many advertisements. Their main purpose is to entertain and generate revenue. Use the chart below to help you compare scholarly, trade, and popular publications, or use the attached document.

Video: Scholarly, Trade & Popular Articles

Learn about the difference between the three main types of articles you might come across during library research.

Video: Evaluating Sources

This video will offer suggestions for evaluating sources. In particular, questions to ask yourself to determine if the source you found is reliable and verifiable, fits the assignment requirements, and helps you answer your question.


Choose Applicable Sources

Save time: scan your sources

You can save time by being a smart reader. You can scan through your sources; you don't need to read every article you find during your search.

Look through each source, following these steps, and ask yourself, Does this source seem relevant to my topic?

  1. Read the title
  2. Look at the authors listed, and any affiliations they may have listed (eg. where they work, if they have an advanced degree)
  3. Look to see where this source was published (e.g. the name of the journal or the book in which it was published)
  4. Read the abstract (if there is one)
  5. Read first few paragraphs
  6. If the source is an article, read the last few paragraphs
  7. If the source is a book, find the most relevant-looking chapters/sections, and read the beginning of these chapters/sections
  8. If the source is an article, read the literature review and conclusions and/or results sections, if applicable

When to read more

If the source still seems relevant to your topic, then you can read the source from the beginning if it's an article. Or, you can read an entire chapter or section if it's a book.

If it doesn't seem relevant, then you probably don't want to use this source for your assignment.

Parts of a Scholarly Article