1 | Read about the differences between scholarly and popular sources
2 | Read about the SIFT method for evaluating sources
3 | Watch the Online Verification Skills video series
4 | Test your evaluation skills with the SIFT Activity
Your research assignments will typically require you to consult scholarly materials. However, depending on your research question, both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes. So, what's the difference?
Scholarly sources are intended for use in support of conducting in-depth research, often containing specialized vocabulary and extensive references to sources. The content has been reviewed by academic peers to ensure the reliability of methods used and the validity of findings (peer-reviewed). Scholarly sources are easily found using tools like library databases and Google Scholar.
Popular sources can range from magazine articles to sensational tabloids to blogs and websites and are intended for a general audience of readers. Many popular sources are still credible. These sources may or may not be written by experts and do not go through a process like peer review. However, many magazine and newspaper publishers still employ editors and fact-checkers before publishing materials. Yet, other popular sources readily available in a web search may not have gone through any level of review. That means you'll need to conduct your web searches with a critical eye.
|Authors:||Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians||Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed|
|Examples:||Journal of Asian History, New England Journal of Medicine, Chemical Reviews, Educational Psychologist; books from University presses such as Oxford University Press and the University of California Press||Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from popular publishers like Penguin and Random House|
|Focus:||Specific and in-depth||Broad overviews|
|Language:||Dense; includes academic jargon||Easier to read; defines specialized terms|
|Format:||Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions||Varies|
|Citations:||Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide||No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text|
|Before publication:||Evaluated by peers (other scholars)||Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all|
|Audience:||Specialists in the subject area: students, professors and the author's peers||General readers; shouldn't require any special background|
|Design:||Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising||Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations and advertising are more common|
|Purpose:||Communicating research findings; education;||Entertainment; news|
As we saw on the previous page, establishing the credibility of scholarly articles is usually straightforward. What about the sources you find on the web? In particular, news stories and other popular sources. For these sources, we recommend the SIFT method. Read below to find out more.
Determining if a source is credible and reliable can be challenging. Use the SIFT method to help you analyze information, especially news or other online media.
STOP | Do you know anything about the website or source of information you found? What about its reputation? It's purpose? You'll want to know these things before you read it, cite it, or share it on social media.
INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE | It's important to know the expertise and agenda of your source. Try a Google search of the author or publisher to find out what others say about them. Open multiple tabs.
FIND TRUSTED COVERAGE | Look for the best information on a topic or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you to investigate further.
TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, & MEDIA | Is there a study or report mentioned in the article? Find the original report to see if it was accurately reported. What about images? A reverse-image search may be necessary.
Mike Caulfield created the SIFT method for evaluating sources. Watch him explain the importance of lateral reading.
In this second video you'll see lateral reading in action as you learn how to Investigate the Source
In the third video Mike Caulfield takes you through an example of how to Find the Source.
In the final video Mike Caulfield offers advice on how to find information we can trust.