This page will describe how to evaluate various types of writing and expertise as one discovers information across a variety of resources - including general Internet materials.
One must use critical thinking to identify accurate and trustworthy information when you do not know the credentials of the author. The criteria used to evaluate materials is called the CRAAP test. This is especially important when you are looking at personal web pages and blogs containing opinions presented as facts.
We will highlight the elements of academic writing, and highlight the differences between popular and peer reviewed materials -- helping students identify, critically analyze, and appropriately cite such materials.
The library provides access to $400,000 worth of quality material you will not find in Google.
Remember, the content is far more important than the platform or the format.
Many people post their personal opinions and ideas on the Internet. These materials can be distributed in many ways...such as Twitter feeds, blogs, and web pages. There are few restrictions on what someone may present as facts. It is incumbent upon the reader to determine if the material they are reading is accurate, factual, and reliable. One should attempt to determine if the author has any expertise, if the statements are supported by facts and reliable evidence, and if the material is a balanced presentation of the considerations. Often, such material is written for a purpose, and the writing may be slanted to support a particular position or belief. This may not be apparent, and pieces can be written to intentionally disguise this misrepresentation.
World Wide Web and Internet Material
Material found on the Internet can be created by many types of people and organizations. In some cases there may be very high quality and credible material mounted by professional associations, societies, universities, corporations, and other organizations. In other cases the material may be sensational entertainment pieces with no factual basis. Remember, the web contains sites which provide false, misleading, and outrageous content; and some sites appear authoritative but are really only presenting the portion of the material that supports their positions. Everything is written for a purpose, so be alert in order to identify misleading information. Readers must be very critical about the validity of these materials; always look for evidence of reliability such as author credentials, organizational credentials, balanced and reliable references that support the ideas and positions presented, and review the currency of the material used for support.
Searches can be run on many tools, but you may want to start searching using subject portals maintained by reliable organizations ... which selectively point to more reliable materials. (These portals are identified at the bottom of our Search by Type of Information subject help pages.) Additional information can be found on our Evaluating Websites page.
Facts and Definitions
Facts and definitions can be found in both popular and peer reviewed resources.
Popular sources of facts: Tools like Google and Wikipedia can often provide facts. They may be adequate sources for information such as the real name of Chance the Rapper, but should not be relied upon for submitting academic information.
Reliable sources of facts: Tools that are peer reviewed provide accurate and timely facts. The library offers a set of searchable dictionaries and encyclopedias on our Facts and Definitions page -- starting with the CREDO search tool.
News comes in many formats, and from many perspectives. The library provides a variety of news tools, some with specific interests such as business, legal, and ethnic coverages. To be sure you have a balanced perspective, think critically about the source, the accuracy, and the intention of each news resource.
Consider the following possibilities and identify the type of News service you may be consulting:
Popular writing contains material written to be understood by most people without a deep educational background in the discipline. The articles, usually found in popular magazines such as Time or Sky and Telescope, often have color pictures. They are usually written by journalists, and the authors do not list their academic credentials as proof of expertise. The content is often an overview of a topic, and does not attempt to be comprehensive. There are rarely citations within the articles, and rarely does the article end with References to the literature. There may be Recommended Readings for finding out more about the topic, and these are frequently books on the topic.
Popular magazine and newspaper articles may be found in Academic Search Complete by limiting results using the facets on the left to select "Magazines" .
Academic writing is intended for other researchers in a field, and assumes a significant amount of prior knowledge in the field. These materials are written by experts in the field, and the conclusions are often based upon experimental evidence. Academic manuscripts are frequently submitted to journal editors and pass through the process of peer review (a blind review for accuracy by other experts in the field) and may be modified through suggested revisions before being accepted for publication as an article in a journal.
Academic articles frequently contain specific elements and characteristics:
These initial reports of methods and findings are referred to as Primary Literature. Even though academic articles have passed through a rigorous peer review process, one must be careful and critical when reading such documents. More current investigations and findings may update or invalidate earlier findings. (Remember to sort your results by date to have the most recent articles appear first.) Some articles contain errors and you may see errata (correction) reports or retractions. Often other experts will submit follow-up Comments and /or Letters to the Editor about the primary research; these types of materials will appear in Academic Journals, but are not Primary Literature. Be sure to look for the elements described above to determine that your article is a Primary material.
On occasion, experts will write Review articles which provide a state-of-the-art update for a field. This synthesis of previous work can help new researchers in a field become familiar with the current trends, names, and theories in a discipline. These reviews of primary research reports are called Secondary Literature, and they have great value; but do not mistake them for the original Primary Research articles that contain the full details of experiments with the elements mentioned above.
Errors: Errors in analysis, samples, interpretations, or conclusions can be discovered and recorded after publication as Errata. These modifications to the original works are often included in search results and are entered as Errata links on the database or index article abstract page. Errata to "Coronal Alignment of the Lower Limb and the Incidence of Constitutional Varius Knee in Korean Females"
Improper Behavior: On occasion, some researchers have falsified data or conclusions. This can end a career and jeopardize the future of an organization. See the following example of falsifying lab note books, falsifying lab results, etc. Crucial Data Were Fabricated In Report Signed by Top Biologist.
Trade publications are written for a specific audience, assume a deep understanding of the field, and generally provide updates on trends in an industry. They do not contain many references to prior research or citations to supporting information. While these industry newsletters are important for managers and researchers, they are not considered peer reviewed and should not be used as scholarly publications.
Academic (peer review) articles may be found in Academic Search Complete by limiting results using the facets on the left to select "Peer Reviewed" materials.
Academic articles may also be discovered in other subject indexes such as SCOPUS, PsycINFO, PubMed, SciFinder Scholar, and many more found on our list of databases.
Another type of material that may contain information of interest to scholars are films and videos. The library provides access to DVDs and other streaming video resources through our Video/Audio page. As with any other type of material, one must evaluate the accuracy of these materials.
Another type of primary literature is original personal notes, correspondence, and diaries. This type of material is often found in special collections and/or attics, and can be very helpful for understanding the conditions under which people lived at the time. Remember that every personal record is biased by that person's circumstances, beliefs, and external pressures. These are not peer reviewed materials, so you must treat these with critical reasoning to find the embedded assumptions and perspectives. Only historians with holistic knowledge of the time can perform valid assessments of such personal materials.
Searching for types of writing
ACADEMIC (peer review) articles may be found in:
POPULAR (magazine) articles may be found in Academic Search Complete by limiting results using the facets on the left to select "Magazines".
Style Guides for citations and subject writing:
There are a variety of writing and citation styles used based upon your discipline. For details about citation standards see our Citation-Style Guides page.
Short video version: Critical thinking (types of information)