Evaluate Sources with Your A, B, C, Ds!
- A = Author and audience
- Who wrote or otherwise created the material? Is s/he an expert in the field? What are his or her credentials?
- Who are the intended consumers of the material? Researchers, undergraduates, the general public?
- B = Bias
- People create materials for various reasons: to provide information, to push an opinion, to sell something, or just to be funny to name a few. What is the purpose of this material, and does it tell you anything about possible bias? Does the author present a balanced point of view? Are there any obvious conflicts of interest? Is the tone objective, or is it emotional?
- C = Currency and coverage
- How current is the material? What is an acceptable date range for your topic area?
- Is coverage of the topic in depth, or is it shallow?
- D = Documentation
- Does the author cite his or her sources? Are they quality citations?
You must determine what is appropriate for your topic!
And just to throw in more alphabet soup, for scientific studies, also think about M (Methodology; is it sound?) and R (Replication; has the study been replicated with the same results?)
Keeping your A, B, C, Ds in mind, what are some differences between a peer-reviewed source and a popular source?
Primary literature versus review literature
- A primary research article in the sciences reports the findings of original research done by the authors of the article.
- Primary research articles are usually published in peer-reviewed journals.
- A primary research article poses a research question or states a hypothesis.
- To determine whether or not you've found a primary research article, scan the article (or even just the abstract). Look for an introduction, methods, results, and discussion sections.
- Review articles and books pull together the findings of multiple primary research articles. That is, they summarize previously reported findings rather than present new findings. In doing so, review literature often gives a broader view of the current state of understanding in a given topic area.