As you conduct your research, you will come across different kinds of sources, which can often be broken down into three larger categories:
Popular Literature: Popular literature is often the kind of information we are most familiar with, found in newspapers and magazines. These articles typically report on current events or trends and are written by journalists employed by a publication. These articles are typically written for a broad audience and do not generally assume deep subject matter knowledge of the reader on given topics.
Trade/Professional Literature: Professional or trade publications are written by journalists or professionals working in a particular field. The authors assume subject knowledge of the reader, and the articles are generally written to update professionals within a particular field about current events, trends, and opinions which may affect their work.
Scholarly Literature: Scholarly literature is written by experts in a given field and is published in a journal. Journals will typically include original research articles, reviews, and opinion pieces. Articles published in highly-regarded scholarly journals will typically undergo a peer-review process prior to publication. This means that the article was reviewed by other experts for accuracy and validity of the research prior to publication.
When you conduct your research through the library databases or other sources, you will discover many types of results. How can you be sure that the sources you find are scholarly?
Below are a few things to look for when seeking scholarly articles. If you are unsure, you can always ask a librarian or your instructor for more help.
Author Affiliations: A scholarly journal will typically list the affiliation of the articles author(s), often including any relevant degrees, their positions, and where they work -- which will typically be a college/university or some other type of research institution.
Research Methods: Scholarly articles often report research findings. If the article you are reading claims to be original research, you should be able to locate a method section of the article which explains the process used to conduct the research in great detail.
References: A scholarly article will have a full reference list at the end with formal citations and should have in-text citations throughout the article.
The nature of conducting research on terrorism means that sometimes you will not have access to scholarly articles on your topic. When this occurs, you must conduct some critical thinking to evaluate the information you find. It may still be useful for your assignment, but you should ask questions and proceed with caution.
Questions to ask yourself when evaluating an article:
Who wrote this information? What can I find out about them? Who do they work for? What makes this person an expert?
Why was this article written? Is it merely to inform or report? Was it written to persuade or promote a specific agenda?
What does this article say? Does the information match up with other articles you've found? Does it contradict other information?
When was it written or last updated? Has anything significant changed regarding this topic since that date?
Where does the author get their information? Are references, even informal ones, listed?
You may not be able to answer all of these questions for each article. However, you should know and acknowledge any potential limitations of the information you find and intend to use in your projects.
It's important not to take everything you find at face value, but instead do a little digging to evaluate your articles -- even scholarly articles.
If you're stuck and need more assistance evaluating the information you've found, check with your instructor, your librarian or visit the link below for more help.