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POL 210 -- Congress: Scholarly vs. Popular

Evaluating What You Find: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Why evaluate sources? Remember:

  • Anyone with a little time, some knowledge and small amount of money can publish on the Internet.
  • No person, persons or organization reviews the content of the Internet.
  • Pages are retrieved by search engines based on the page's content, not the relevancy or quality of the page.
  • Much information on the Web is not updated regularly.

The following four criteria can help you to evaluate your sources:

Authority--Who is the author? What is his expertise? Who is the publisher?
Accuracy--Is it well-researched? Is there a bibliography or references so you can locate the original source of the information? Do the facts jive with other sources?
Objectivity--Is there bias? Is the information promoting a specific point of view or is it objective?
Currency--Is the information up-to-date? Is it too dated to be useful?

Thinking about any type of publication, including websites, in this way will help ensure that you have located the best information available.

 

Scholarly vs. Popular

Characteristics

Scholarly Journal

Popular Magazine

Length

Articles are usually 10 pages or more in length; providing in-depth analysis of topics

Shorter articles (less than 10 pages), providing broader overview of topics

Written by

Author usually an expert or specialist in the field, name and credentials always provided

Author usually a journalist or a staff writer, name and credentials often not provided

Language/Written for

Written in technical language for professors, researchers, students of the field

Written at high school level for the general public

Coverage

Original research results and scholarship

Popular topics and current events

Slant

Supposed to present objective/neutral viewpoint;

May reflect the editorial bias/slant of the magazine

Frequency

Usually quarterly

Usually weekly

Format/Structure

Articles usually structured, may include: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography

Articles do not necessarily follow a specific format or structure

Special Features

Illustrations that support the text, such as, tables of statistics, graphs, diagrams, maps, or photographs

Illustrations with glossy paper or color photographs

Appearance

Serious and sober, with few colors and few or no advertisements

Glossy, with pictures and advertisements

Editors

Articles usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a board of experts in the field (known as refereed or peer-reviewed)

Articles are not reviewed by experts in the field, but by editors on staff

References Cited

Usually includes a bibliography and/or footnotes

Usually has no bibliography or footnotes

Examples

Ecology

Social Science Quarterly

American Political Science Review

 

Time

Newsweek

Sports Illustrated

Scientific American

A Word about Books

A Word of Warning!! Just because the library owns a book, it doesn't mean the book qualifies as academic. Use the hints below and in the chart to determine if the book is scholarly/ academic or popular.

Most of the items in the chart can also apply to books. Ask some of the following questions:

Who is the author and is s/he an expert? Read the book jacket or information often located in the beginning or end of the book. Try Google or Amazon to see what else the author might have written and to check his affiliation. Check the online catalog to see if the library has other items written by the author.

Who is the publisher? Do they have a specialty? University presses, some societies, and some associations usually publish academic titles, but some other publishers do as well. Visit their website to see their focus.

Is there a bibliography, references or footnotes?

What is the language of the book? Is it technical or is it for the general public.

Is it well-organized with a clear structure? Does it have a preface, a table of contents, an introduction, an index?

 

 

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