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PSYC 101 - General Psychology - Edmond: Types of Sources

Rating your Sources

star rating system showing stars 1 through five as filled inWhen you are choosing a restaurant, movie, or shopping online, how often do you check out the reviews? Are you more likely to purchase a product with 5 stars or 1 star? Are you more likely to eat at or order from the restaurant with two stars or five stars? While most of us are familiar with the five-star rating system, you likely don't realize that information can be rated and reviewed too! An article getting published in a scholarly publication is comparable to getting a five-star rating, whereas a conspiracy theory website about the flat earth is likely to get 0 stars.

Can you Give this 5 Stars?

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There are five factors you can take into account when evaluating whether or not a source is appropriate. 

Author

Works written directly by scholars in a field of study are more reliable sources of information than those written by professional journalists. You should evaluate the level of expertise the person writing the article has. If an individual author is unavailable, you can think about the organization represented by the writer and whether or not they are to be trusted. 

Audience

When writing, the author has a specific audience in mind and will use words, phrases, and examples that are appropriate for that audience. It is important to recognize that as a college student you should be finding sources that are aimed toward a more scholarly audience than a general audience.

Purpose

There is always a reason for something to be published, so as a student you should be thinking about why something is being shared. Is the reason to persuade you to believe one side of an argument, or are they publishing the results of a study they conducted? 

Content

The amount of information (or lack of information) can tell a lot about a source's quality. You should search for sources that have references to other sources or with information that can be verified in other places as well. 

Context

Where, when, and how something is published can provide significant insight into a source's quality. Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal or a blog? Is this information too old to be of significance or is it from the same time that a significant event took place? 

Sample Articles of Different Ratings

Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Research Study Articles

Professors use a lot of different phrases to describe a specific set of publications. Whether they call it Academic or Scholarly, what they frequently mean is that they want you to find articles by researchers that have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. These articles are mainly written by people who work or teach (and thus are considered "scholars") in their respective fields and contain original research on very specific topics within their field.

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  • Authors might list their degrees or credentials and usually say where they work (ex. Courtney Ward-Sutton, PhD, CRC, Natalie F. Williams, PhD, CRC, BCBA, Rehabilitation and Research and Trainging Center, Langston Universtity, Langston Oklahoma; Independent Researcher, Oklahoma, USA)
  • Citations are used throughout the article to show where researchers found their information (ex. at end of sentence, in parentheses: Onwuegbuzie & Frels, 2016) 
  • Publication titles often (but not always!) say “Journal” in their name (ex. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling)
  • Length is usually over 10 pages (ex. pages 115 to 133 as stated in the database record)
  • You can easily check if the journal is Peer-Reviewed in the databases by clicking on the journal title, which will bring up details about the publication. A field in the record says Yes or No after Peer-Reviewed. 

Other Scholarly Literature

In addition to the research-based articles published in peer-reviewed journals, there is a lot of work that is published by scholars in other types of publications. Professionals might present at a conference and have their presentation written up in conference proceedings, write a chapter in a book on a topic that is edited and collected by other scholars, or even write an editorial for the publication they edit. While these are not always based on original research or peer-reviewed they are typically outstanding sources. 

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  • Publication titles could either be a journal or the title of the book itself, but the content is not necessarily original research (ex. Journal of Research in Science and Teaching, book title of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World) 
  • Published in a variety of ways, but always in a scholarly context (ex. Journal article is an editorial, the book is an eBook) 
  • Authors might list their degrees or credentials and usually say where they work (Ex. article by Maria S Rivera Maulucci of Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, NY and Felicia Moore Mensah of Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY; book by Mary Bucholtz, Delores Ines Casillas and Jin Sook Lee, University of California, Santa Barbara) 
  • References given to support the information or argument given (ex. at end of sentence, in parentheses: Moskowitz & Lavinia, 2012; also shows References at end of work that provide a complete citation). 

The Best of the Rest

Often it is simply more accessible to read the thoughts on a topic from someone who is either educated in the field or from a publication dedicated to a specific area. You may also need information about current events. This is where magazines, newspapers, and websites start to show some promise as resources since they are able to publish information more quickly than it would appear in more formal literature. You still want to be sure you are getting information from an appropriately scholarly source that provides in-depth discussion. 

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  • Publication or Website names hint at topics covered (ex. the publication Nature or the website Urban Institute)
  • References are often given informally through a mention or a link, but may not be given at all. Examples include:
    • Quote: "In April, the UK Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre estimated that 35% of people in intensive care with COVID-19 are black, Asian or members of other minority ethnic groups, nearly triple their proportion in the UK population."
    • Quote with link in parentheses at end: "A preliminary study published on a preprint server (Wu, X. et al. Preprint at medRxiv https://doi.org/10/ggrpcj; 2020) linked exposure to an increased likelihood of dying from COVID-19."
    • Words "revealed an alarming trend" are hyperlinked
    • Words "social detriments of health" are hyperlinked
  • Author bylines or biographies often list accomplishments or other publications. (ex. Harriet A. Washington is the author of several books, most recently A Terrible Thing To Waste: Environmental Racism And Its Assault On The American Mind., clicking on Kilolo Kijakazi's name links to a biography pegging her as an expert and Institute Fellow)
  • Published Date is often from the same time period that related to the topic is being most discussed (ex. Articles published in April and May of 2020 referring to the pandemic)

Not the Worst, But You Can Do Better

There's a lot of things published on a regular basis that serve no purpose other than to earn somebody money. While there may be information that might be provided in the process of making, it's really important to examine why something is being published and where it is being published and who is most likely to benefit from this information being shared. A lot of times you'll find works like this surrounded by advertisements, opinion pieces, and links to other information that is in no way related to your research. This type of source, unfortunately, makes up the majority of the internet. 

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  • Publication or Website names are typically branded (ex. the website goop)
  • Author information is sparse and seldom includes information that shows expertise. (ex. "Dive in Well founder Maryam Ajayi" tells us nothing about this person)
  • Date information is obscured or nonexistent, making the information “timeless” so it can generate more revenue. (ex. the only reference to time on the page is "the past three months")
  • Publication content is all over the place, with no focus on one subject. This is done to appeal to a wider audience and bring more people to the site.(ex. article on the same website titles "Is there glyphosate in your hummus?"
  • References are typically nonexistent. You are more likely to find a link to buy something. (ex. Link to "Shop our favorites for 70% off)

Would Not Recommend

Just because it exists, doesn't mean you should use it for research. You might find something interesting, entertaining, or questionable in these types of sources, but that's certainly not where you should stop. These types of sources might give you ideas for topics to research but are not worthy of use for a college-level research paper. 

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  • Publication or Website names are ones you’ve seen at the grocery store, doctor’s office, or heard of on TV. Their job is to entertain, not to inform. (ex. People)
  • Authors work for the publication, and write on a wide variety of topics and are not experts on any of them. You can click the name to find other articles they wrote. 
  • Date information includes a time because they publish information frequently. (ex. July 2, 2020, 2:00 PM)
  • References do not exist. They refer you to their ad partners because if you click their ad, the publisher makes money. You will often have to close multiple pop-up ads as well. (ex shows an ad for Iams and Sift covering approximately 1/3 of the page.)
  • Article content is somewhere on the page but often requires going past a lot of ads and images. Content is very general information that could likely be easily found in Wikipedia.