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FYEX 1000 First Year Experience: Know Your Sources

Source Types - Periodicals

Periodicals are published "periodically." That means daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly and include newspapers, magazines, trade publications and journals. Your instructors may ask you to use a wide variety of sources to complete an assignment, some of them may require that you use academic (sometimes referred to as scholarly) sources only.

Academic Journals

Also referred to as "scholarly journals," contain articles written by professionals in a field. The articles are usually research oriented and often contain original research. In the sciences and social sciences they are often illustrated with tables or graphs. These articles will have a list of references at the end. Articles submitted to an academic journal are frequently put through the peer-review process, meaning that other experts on the topic read and suggest revisions to the author(s) before the final version is accepted for publication.

Magazines

Popular magazines are not as in-depth as academic sources. The magazine may focus on a particular area of interest, Parenting, for example is devoted to raising children and Time focuses on news, but the articles are intended as general interest, instead of being geared toward scholars or professionals. Authors may or may not be names, there may be illustrations or charts, but it is rare for these articles to include a bibliography at the end.

Newspapers

Like magazines, newspapers are geared toward general, rather than scholarly, audiences. Newspapers can be published daily, weekly, or monthly. News articles usually contain credible, factual information, but editorials published in newspapers focus more on commentary or opinion. Newspapers may have a viewpoint that echoes their publisher or the audience they serve, this may be noticeable when you "read between the lines."

Trade Publications

Trade publications contain articles pertaining to specific industries and are of interest to people working in those fields. For instance, HR Focus examines issues, practices, and products related to the human resources industry. Trade publication articles tend to be informative and highlight new developments or best practices in an industry.


Periodical Comparison Chart

 
Newspapers
Magazines
Types of Journals
Opinion
Scholarly
Trade
Examples Plain Dealer, Wall Street Journal  Newsweek, Psychology Today, Billboard  The New Republic, The Animal's Agenda  Crystal Engineering, New England Journal of Medicine Journal of the American Library Association, Publisher's Weekly
Audience/
Content
General readership - news, opinions, text of speeches, local interest  Overviews, non-technical language, advertisments  Journal has specific agenda written to appeal to like-minded readers  Professional readership - research, analysis, technical vocabulary  Journal of association or trade organization meant for people in that field
Authorship By-line for important staff writers, often no author named, no credentials given  By-line for important staff writers, often no author named, no credentials given  Featured writers have by-line, staff writers often not named, no credentials given  All contributing authors named with their degrees and sponsoring institution  Varies - some name authors and their credentials, others not
Bibliog./
Credits
Articles often do not refer to sources  No bibliography, articles may refer to other sources  No bibliography, articles may refer to other sources  Extensive bibliography, footnotes in text, article often begins with literature review  Varies from journal to journal
Editors/
Peer Review
Standards set by newspaper editors and owners  Staff editors, no peer or expert review  Staff editors, no peer or expert review  Articles "peer reviewed" for accuracy by other experts  Staff editors, no peer or expert review
Length Brief overview articles or follow-up columns  Short overview articles meant as starting point for readers  Short articles supporting journal's agenda  Comprehensive papers outlining original research or new synthesis of previous research  Shorter overview articles applying to specific topics in trade
Special Features  Photographs, some charts, maps etc.  Advertisements, photographs, illustrations, maps etc.  Advertisements, photographs, illustrations, maps etc.  Tables, graphs, charts, maps, illustrations to support text  Advertisements, photographs, illustrations
Structure No consistent format for articles  No specific structure unless written by featured writer  No specific structure unless written by featured writer  Structured, beginning with abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography  No specific structure unless written by featured writer 

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

In addition to recognizing source types, it is important to be able to evaluate the sources you use. Below is a list of criteria you can use to determine if the source you've selected meets your research needs.

Relevance

What time of source did you select, that is, an academic journal, magazine article, trade article, or newspaper? Does the source give you the "big picture" or does it focus on a more specific aspect of it? What information does the source add to your understanding of the topic you are researching?

Currency

When was the article published? Would that date of publication be current enough to provide up-to-date information? How might the date of publication impact the value of the information in the source?

Authority

Is the individual or group responsible for the information qualified to provide that information? What are their qualifications? Do they have credentials, such as advanced degrees? Are they affiliated with any particular organization?

Intended Audience

For whom did the author or organization produce the source (students, general public, scholars, professionals, etc.)? Are the level, tone, and presentation of the material appropriate for your needs?

Purpose

Information can be produced to sell something, entertain, inform, advocate, argue, and so on. In some cases it may even be created for malicious purposes. Being aware of the purpose off the information you're reviewing is a good way to begin to determine its bias and reliability.

Accuracy

Does the source contain references to support statements and/or statistical information? Are the references relevant to the topic? If the source is a webpage or web document, do the links appear to be related to the topic? Is there bias or does the source appear to be neutral? If it is biased, does it exhibit an extreme level of bias?

Accessibility

The availability of information impacts ifs potential usefulness. Is the information available for free or is there a fee? Is it available to the general public or is a login required? If the source is a website, is it difficult to use for some reason (i.e., congested with text and graphics, no clear navigation, requires special software downloads)?

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