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POLS-384: Strategies of Political Research

1) Evaluating Sources: books and articles

Up until now, we have primarily been focusing on how to find books and journal articles through the Library's resources. In this module we will look at two very important aspects in the research process that occur after you have located information (e.g. a book, journal article or website): evaluating sources.

Carefully evaluate each source you find to determine if it is appropriate for your research. Previously, we discussed how academic journal articles can be distinguished from other types of periodicals. Here is a checklist for criteria used to judge information sources, particularly books. (You might also find our Fake News guide a useful tool.) 

Evaluating Sources Checklist

Purpose Why was the resource written? Was the author's purpose to inform, persuade, or to refute a particular idea or point of view?
Audience Is the resource intended for the general public, scholars, professionals,etc.
Authority What are the author's qualifications? Consider author's educational background, past writings and experience. Is the author associated with an organization or institution? Who is the publisher? Are they well known? Does any group control the publishing company?
Accuracy Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? Facts can be usually verified. Opinions evolve from the interpretation of facts. Are the author's conclusions or facts supported with references?
Timeliness When was the information published? Is the date of publication appropriate for your topic?
Coverage Is it relevant to your topic? Is the topic covered in depth, partially or is it an broad overview? Does the resource add new information, update other sources or substantiate other resources that you have consulted?
Objectivity Does the author present multiple viewpoints or is it biased? How do critical reviews rate the work?

2) Evaluating Sources: On the web

As was mentioned in 2.3: Searching the Web, it is important to evaluate the sources you find on the Web, because Web pages can be produced by anyone. Here is a checklist of criteria to think about when you are searching the Web:

Evaluating Web Sources Checklist

Audience Is the level of the website appropriate for university-level research?
Author Can you determine the author of the information? Is the author
recognized as an expert on the topic? Is there contact information
on the page?
Content Is the information accurate? Is this an opinion piece? Does the site provide documentation, such as references, for the information provided? Is the information presented in an objective manner?
Are all sides of an issue represented, or is it biased?

Can you determine when this information was created or published?
Are the links valid? Is it current enough for your research?

Publisher Can you tell who the publisher of the information is? What is the site's domain
and what does that tell you about the publisher?

Citation Metrics

Known more popularly as "JCR," Journal Citation Reports is a database that provides evaluation of Social Sciences journals based on citation data, or how often an article is referenced by researchers. JCR is part of the Web of Knowledge/Social Science Citation Index databases. For more information about JCR, please see the "JCR Reference Guide" pdf in the left menu.

By sorting by Journal Impact Factor (JIF) using Journal Citation Reports (JCR), determine which journals in a discipline are making the greatest contribution to the publishing history of an idea by measuring citation frequencies. In Political Science, JCR ranks approximately 187 journals against each other, but it is important to keep in mind that there are many factors that influence citation data; whereas citation factor is a useful guide, it should be taken with a grain of salt. The following graphic illustrates just some of the fields included in the Canadian Journal of Political Science record.