When you're looking at a website or other online source, it's important to remember that not all sources are equal in terms of quality or content. What could make a suitable source for one project, could be inappropriate for another. Always consult with your librarian or professor before using open online content.
The questions below are a critical lens for you to use when evaluating web sources for your academic work. You don't have to answer every question, but try to cover all of the broader, bolded questions.
Who wrote the source? Can you find an author or authors listed on the site?
What kind of background does the author have? Try Googling their name - what other kinds of things have they written?
Is there an institution, organization, or corporate entity that is behind the website? What interests might they have?
What is the source about?
How does the source's topic or content align with their mission and identity?
When was the source written?
Can you find a date anywhere on the website, or on the particular article or source you're looking at? Remember, an "updated" date at the bottom of a webpage does not necessarily mean that all content was updated as of that time.
What is the URL of the website you're on? Sometimes, you can tell more about a website based on the end of it's address (e.g. .edu, .com, .net, etc).
Think back to the author of the source, if you found one. What possible motivation could they have for writing the source?
Does the source have a clear message? Does that message align with the author/websites' intentions?
How did you find the source?
How is the source getting its message across?
What makes a source scholarly?
...are written by and for faculty, researchers, or scholars.
...use scholarly or technical language specific to the field.
...include full citations for sources used.
...are often peer-reviewed or refereed.
...are NOT book reviews or editorials, even when they are in a scholarly journal.
What's Peer Review?
Process by which research articles are published in an academic journal.
Essentially quality tests done by experts that help verify the article's findings, arguments, and conclusions.
A synonym for refereed articles, as peer reviewers are sometimes called referees.
For more about peer review, watch the video below!
Google vs. Academic Databases
As many of you indicated on the survey, using Google & Google Scholar can be easier; however, both of those can yield thousands of results at one time, and you have no idea how they are curated. Scholarly databases, including the library catalog, are curated in various ways (recency, relevancy, etc.) and can be sorted and filtered to narrow down a long list faster. All are useful means of finding resources.
Student comment from the survey:
"I really enjoy using google scholar also, however it is annoying when really interesting articles come up that I don't have access to, and that aren't on the library's site either."
Provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research. Learn how to connect Google Scholar to the F&M Library here.