5. Not all sources are created equal

The sources which are considered appropriate for a university-level essay are usually "scientific" or "scholarly" literature (as opposed to popular magazines or web sites). Most scientific literature is not freely available on the web. Rather, it is published in scholarly journals, which U of T Libraries may own in print format, or in electronic format (or in both). Most scholarly journals are peer-reviewed (also called "refereed"); this means that when an author submits an article, experts in the field evaluate the article and decide whether to publish it.

Scholarly journals are usually recognizable in that:

To tell if a journal is peer-reviewed (refereed), look up its title in Ulrich's Periodical Directory. If this symbol symbol for refereed appears next to the title of the journal, it is peer-reviewed.

How far back should you go? This will vary depending on your topic and the nature of your essay assignment. Do not assume that a publication is irrelevant because it's older. On the other hand, be aware that in many fields (for instance, drug treatment), older material may have been superceded by more recent research. So it's important to examine sources in historical perspective.

When evaluating a source, you may want to ask questions such as: What are the author's qualifications? Is the research methodology sound? Are the conclusions evidence-based? For some other ideas on how to evaluate possible sources, see the web page Critical Evaluation of Resources (from UC Berkeley Library).

Next section: Keeping track of your sources

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