Evaluating journal articles
When you find an article in an academic journal, you need to consider whether or not it is of sufficient quality and relevance to use in your work. To help you do this, consider the following advice:
- Read the article abstract: this summarises the author's key findings and methodology. This will help you decide whether you want to read the full article.
- Note the year of publication: you might need the very latest research. However, also check the dates of the references at the end of a document. While an article might have been published recently, it may refer to older research that has been challenged by more recent findings.
- Consider objectivity and consistency: ask yourself whether the author's argument develops with consistent rationality? Does the author reveal bias, perhaps omitting reference to key academic perspectives that might undermine his/her argument? Are the methodologies used appropriate for the scope and theme of the research?
- Check accuracy: if you suspect that a piece of information presented as "fact" is suspect, check its accuracy using least two other respected sources of information.
- Follow up references: you could also check an article's references to find out if the author has used reputable sources.
- Follow up citing links: if you search databases such as Scopus and Web of Science to find articles on a topic, you can see how many times an article has been cited by other articles indexed in that same database.
You can also re-sort your database results in order of those most highly cited and therefore, potentially most influential. However, be cautious: some articles may be highly cited because their findings are contentious!
- Consider limiting your article searches to peer-reviewed journals: these only include articles that are evaluated and approved for publication by other researchers from the same discipline. Reviewers will check, for example, that the author has drawn appropriate conclusions deriving from strong evidence, and has used appropriate methodologies. All journals covered within Scopus and Web of Science are peer-reviewed. In some databases, such as Business Source Complete and IBSS, you can limit your searches to articles from peer-reviewed journals.
- For more detailed advice: refer to Critically evaluating what you read.
When writing at university, you are generally advised to make use of the academic readings recommended by your lecturers, and to discover further academic literature.
Occasionally, it may be appropriate to also refer to websites that are designed for the general public, but if you do that, you need to carefully assess the credibility, currency and relevance of those websites. After all, anyone can write web content about a topic, regardless of their level of expertise.
Even websites that appear in the top set of search engine results can still be inappropriate sources for academic work.
Use the following resources to help you determine the quality of website information:
- Evaluating websites found through search engines: general advice
- Checking web credibility
- Wikipedia: a tool for research?
- Virtual Training Suite: subject-specific tutorials to help you develop evaluative skills