Analyzing Your Sources

A research paper is only as good as the sources that have been used. How can you tell if your sources in your works cited page are good sources? You can always evaluate a review article on its own merit. Ask these three questions:
  • Is the article presenting a new thought?
  • Is it well supported?
  • Does it make sense?

However, beginning students in any field may not know enough about the subject to know if the present article is reliable. Here are some basic techniques that can help determine the quality of your source.

Did you find your source in a database?

Databases like like EBSCOhost, InfoTrac, etc., are primarily indexes to articles in magazines and newspapers. Especially journal articles, and to a degree, magazine and newspaper articles, have sometimes gone though a great deal more editing and review than ones you may find on the web.

  1. What journal is it in--Studies in Short Fiction (a literary journal), or People Magazine (a popular magazine)? If you’re not sure of the kind of journal something is, you have several routes to identify it:
    1. Click on the title of the JOURNAL. In EBSCOhost, you’ll get brief information about who publishes it, and what kind of journal it is.

      Screen shot of the Ebsco Journal Information Screen

    2. If you are using something besides EBSCOHost (like InfoTrac) that doesn't describe the journal for you, any of the following books at the LRC will give you brief information about the scope of the journal, whether or not it is a scholarly or peer reviewed journal, and where it is indexed: (Call us (733-7543) or email us (…we’d be glad to look for you.)
      • Magazines for Libraries--Call Number: REF Z6941 .M23 13th ed
      • Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory--Call Number: REF Z6941 .U5
      • The Serials Directory--Call Number: REF Z6941 .S46

  2. The Author:

    1. What can you tell about the author? Sometimes articles will list the university affiliation or employer of the author. Does your article?

      The university name is listed under the author name in this article.

      (Some journals, like Studies in Short Fiction, have that information about the author in a separate notice at the front or back of the journal. EBSCOhost, unfortunately, doesn't currently show the full text of that author notice. You'd have to go to the print or microfilm edition of the periodical to see it.)

    2. Have they written other articles on the same or similar topics? (Search their name in some of the EBSCOhost databases. This isn’t as hard as it might sound. EBSCO has made the author’s name a link, so all you have to do is click on it. If the name is not a link, then do an advanced search for the author's name in the Text field:
      Screen shot for an Advanced Author search, using the Text field

    3. Have they written other articles?

    4. Are they on the same topic? (If the other articles are all from the same journal or magazine, the author may be a staff writer who writes on lots of topics, and may not be as authoritative as someone whose life work is to study that particular topic. )

    5. What is your author’s primary work? Is the author affiliated with a university or college? Sometimes you can go onto the web site of the university, find the author in a faculty directory, and then find his or her web page. Sometimes, you’ll find a résumé that gives you a good idea of the author’s background.

    6. Have they written books on your topic or on a related topic? You can also search Books in Print to find out about other books the author of the article has written. You may also search the Library of Congress authorities file. (An authority record is a tool used by librarians to establish forms of names for persons, places, meetings, and organizations. If a person is listed here, then it means at least one item from this author has been received by the Library of Congress. You may also get some additional information, like the years of birth and death of the author, the institution with which a living author is connected, and maybe a title.)

  3. Look at the article. Are there citations to other articles listed? If an article includes a bibliography or list of works cited, it usually means the author has put more thought into his article by including or paying attention to the thoughts of others. These additional citations may give you further sources to consider, too.

  4. Is this article, or the author of this article, cited in other articles about this topic? A citation index is most helpful in determining this, but we don’t have this at RSC. If your author is cited by other authors, it’s a good indication that his or her article has some ideas in it that other people have paid attention to, either positively or negatively. Two well known citation indexes are the Social Sciences Citation index, and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. (There’s often a citation index for every field.) You won’t usually find those at a community college, but larger colleges, like OU and OSU both should have them.

Did you find the article on the web?

  1. Who is the author? Sometimes you have to search the website to find an author’s name. If you’re lucky, the author’s name may be at the beginning or end of your article. Otherwise you’ll have to look around. You may find it under copyright information on the home page, or under an “About this site” notice. Take a look at the very good site below. The author is Donna Campbell. But you don't find that anywhere on the page. Look at the address. If you erase enl311/litfram.html from the web address, and then press enter, you'll be taken to an intermediate page, which tells you that Donna Campbell is no longer at Gonzaga University, but at Washington State University.

    It's very hard to find the author's name for this site

    Here's the new page: Down at the very bottom, you'll find an "About This Site" that gives you a much more complete look at who Donna M. Campbell is:

    You have to click on About This Site to get information about Donna M. Campbell

    Now you find out that Donna M. Campbell is a tenured associate professor at the University of Washington, and these are, for the most part, her class materials, and probably a fairly authoritative source for you to use.

  2. Is more information given than just the name?
    1. Other books? If you have the name of a book the person has written, that may lead you to other information. You can check Books in Print to find out about other books your website author has written. Books in Print also includes a limited number of reviews which may tell you what others in the field think of your website author’s work.

    2. Other articles? Check online databases like EBSCOhost to find out if the author has written anything else.

    3. Other web sites?Although you can check the Web for the person’s name, you have to be careful with this, because there are so many people with the same names. It may be more helpful to find pages that link to the page of your website author. (In fact, that's one of the algorithms that Google uses in it's search engine--figuring that more websites linking to a page represent a more relevant page.) In some search engines (Google and AltaVista for sure) you can type:
      to find all the pages that link to your page. Example:
      in Google will give you all the pages that Google has found that link to Rose State’s page. If there are lots of other links to your page, you can get a clue to how well that site is known, and how other people think of it.

    4. The author's job? If the website author is linked to a university, then you can check the university faculty directory for a resumé of your author.

  3. What is the domain of your site? It may not be easy to determine if the purpose of your site is propaganda, sales, opinion, facts, etc. Knowing something about the domain can help you make some decisions about the purpose.

    1. .COM is a commercial site: You’ll find here lots of personal sites, and sites that are trying to make a profit. While this information may still be good, you have to evaluate it more carefully. You'll also find newspapers and television stations here, and their resulting articles.

    2. .EDU is an accredited postsecondary institution site: Lots of faculty have good, reliable information here, but you may also find a student site here. Pay close attention to the author information!

    3. .GOV is a site maintained by the U.S government: Reliable place to get the government’s perspective.

    4. .ORG is a non commercial site. You'll find a lot of advocacy sites here.

    5. For more information about top-level domains, and what they represent, visit the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, particularly the Root Zone Database, that will identify country and generic top level domains.

  4. Other issues related to discovering the authority of your site:

    1. Does your website article include references?
    2. Are there spelling or grammatical errors in your site?
    3. Do the links on the site lead to other quality sites?

  5. Other Considerations: