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Popular or Scholarly?
Scholarly or peer-reviewed sources are written (and then vetted) by credentialed experts in a given academic field, such as history, geology, or mathematics. For many disciplines, this is the "gold standard" of academic publishing. To determine if something is scholarly, consider:
- The source: is the journal published by a University or other academic institution? Does it list who edits the journal?
- The author: do they have an academic affiliation, and/or degrees listed (Ph.D, M.A., etc).
- The content: are the claims being adequately documented? Are there sources cited (footnotes, endnotes, bibliography)?
- The audience: does the article used advanced language and a specialized vocabulary? Are they writing for others who are experts in the field, or for a general audience?
Popular sources is a very broad category, but popular sources are generally distinguished from scholarly because they are not peer-reviewed and are not written for an academic audience. This does not necessarily mean they are untrustworthy or not useful, just that they are of a different sort. In determining if something is a popular source, consider:
- The source: is it a newspaper, website or magazine aimed meant to entertain, provide basic news information, or persuade without providing in-depth analysis?
- The author: is the author identified at all? If they are identified, are they journalists or editorial staff?
- The content: popular sources are generally shorter, and usually do not cite sources. These sources often have more images and advertisements.
- The audience: popular sources use general, easily accessible language and sentence structure. They don't use academic jargon or specialized vocabulary.
Evaluating Source Strength
Determining the strength of a source depends a great deal on your question. What would you like to know, and what kind of source would provide that information?
The strength of a source also might have to do with credibility. How can you be sure that the source you are reading is accurate or trustworthy? There is no magic bullet here, but some things to consider include:
- What organization, institution, business, nonprofit or individual supports or funds this source?
- Is there any identifiable bias in the source? Is this bias related to the organization, etc., that supports it?
- Who is the author? Are they identified and do they provide contact information?
- Is the source dated clearly and accurately? This is especially important for web sources.
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