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How to Evaluate Sources

Evaluating the Evidence Presented in a Scholarly or Professional Journal Article

Once you have determined that a scholarly or professional journal article is relevant to your research writing project, there are several ways to evaluate the evidence the article presents. As a research writer, you can evaluate not only the kind of information offered to support points made in a source, but also the quality, amount, and appropriateness of evidence. Again, we'll follow student writer Anthony Gomez as he evaluates an article from the scholarly journal Language and Learning Across the Disciplines for inclusion in his research project on service learning programs in college. The article is available as an Acrobat document.

The first step in evaluating the evidence presented in any source is to determine whether the sources of information are provided. If the article makes claims but does not back up its assertions with documented evidence, you should be careful about trusting that information. For scholarly or professional journal articles, editorial and peer review boards usually edit and approve the articles. Also, authors of scholarly or trade articles typically cite the research from which they are drawing their information, as you can see from the highlighted text below.

These citations correspond to a list of references found at the end of the article.

Next, determine whether the information in the article is consistent with the information found in other print sources, Web sites, newsgroups, or mailing lists. To do so, you will want to conduct more research on your topic of conversation.

Because Anthony is writing a research essay comparing the benefits and drawbacks of service learning programs in colleges, he needs to be sure that the information in the Language and Learning Across the Disciplines article is consistent with other sources. So, he searched the ERIC database for other articles using the keywords service learning and colleges. With the results he found, he has a list of sources to consult to compare to the information in the Language and Learning Across the Disciplines article.

As you evaluate the scholarly or professional journal article, also consider whether evidence is carefully put together. Consider the thesis, if any, and whether it is supported by credible evidence. Ask whether the argument or analysis seems convincing. If the source leaves you with several important questions unanswered, you might do better to look for another source. You should also consider how using this source in your essay will affect the future direction of your research. Does it contain information that challenges your assumptions about the topic? Does it present any strong evidence against your position for which you need to find counterevidence? Does it suggest a new direction that might be more interesting to pursue?

Finally, you'll want to determine whether the source contains strong quotations or hard facts that would be effective in your final essay. As you can see below, this article contains plenty of quotations that would be effective in an essay that compares both the benefits and drawbacks of service learning programs.

Click on the Continue button to view a demonstration of evaluating the authors of the article.

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