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Resources and help for the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute

Getting Started

Not all resources are created equally. Evaluating sources for relevancy and usefulness is one the most important steps in research. There are several tools to use when evaluating information sources. This page will help outline three different ways to critically analyze research and help you navigate the world of scholarly publishing better. 


Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required. Readers should view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought

Strategies to Evaluate Authority

Citation Chaining: Look at whom the authority is citing and who is citing them. Citations are one way to follow the conversation that occurs among individuals interested in a common research topic. In many cases a source is cited often because other scholars or scientists believe the study provided useful information. However, a high citation count does not always mean a study is unflawed or highly regarded. In some cases a study may be cited frequently because researchers have raised questions about it. A careful citation analysis can give you a fuller understanding of how a source has been part of larger discussions.

Consensus: Not all experts in a field agree, but there may be a general consensus on a topic. Statements or articles produced by the national or international organization that represents a given field usually represent such consensus.

Audience Analysis: Consider which authorities are likely to influence or persuade the audience you are targeting with your research project. Think about the different types of authority you might choose to convince different audiences, such as your parents, your friends, your teacher or professor, or your city council. Even for audiences that seem similar (e.g. university professors who work in different disciplines), you may be more persuasive with different types of authority. Would you choose the same authority if your audience was a sociology professor, a chemistry professor, or a theatre professor?

Adapted from the New Literacies Alliance's "Question Authority":

Criteria for Evaluating Journals

When reviewing an open access publisher or journal for quality and  -- the following should be considered:

1. Peer review process: All of a journal’s content, apart from any editorial material that is clearly marked as such, shall be subjected to peer review. Peer review is defined as obtaining advice on individual manuscripts from reviewers expert in the field who are not part of the journal’s editorial staff. This process, as well as any policies related to the journal’s peer review procedures, shall be clearly described on the journal’s Web site.

2. Governing Body: Journals shall have editorial boards or other governing bodies whose members are recognized experts in the subject areas included within the journal’s scope. The full names and affiliations of the journal’s editors shall be provided on the journal’s Web site.

3. Editorial team/contact information: Journals shall provide the full names and affiliations of the journal’s editors on the journal’s Web site as well as contact information for the editorial office.

4. Copyright: Copyright and licensing information shall be clearly described on the journal’s Web site, and licensing terms shall be indicated on all published articles, both HTML and PDFs.

5. Identification of and dealing with allegations of research misconduct: Publishers and editors shall take reasonable steps to identify and prevent the publication of papers where research misconduct has occurred, including plagiarism, citation manipulation, and data falsification/fabrication, among others.

6. Ownership and management: Information about the ownership and/or management of a journal shall be clearly indicated on the journal’s Web site. Publishers shall not use organizational names that would mislead potential authors and editors about the nature of the journal’s owner.

7. Name of journal: The Journal name shall be unique and not be one that is easily confused with another journal or that might mislead potential authors and readers about the Journal’s origin or association with other journals.

8. Revenue sources: Business models or revenue sources (eg, author fees, subscriptions, advertising, reprints, institutional support, and organizational support) shall be clearly stated or otherwise evident on the journal’s Web site.

9. Advertising: Journals shall state their advertising policy if relevant, including what types of ads will be considered, who makes decisions regarding accepting ads and whether they are linked to content or reader behavior (online only) or are displayed at random.

10. Archiving: A journal’s plan for electronic backup and preservation of access to the journal content (for example, access to main articles via CLOCKSS or PubMedCentral) in the event a journal is no longer published shall be clearly indicated.

11. Direct marketing: Any direct marketing activities, including solicitation of manuscripts that are conducted on behalf of the journal, shall be appropriate, well targeted, and unobtrusive.

From Principles of Transparency and Best Practices in Scholarly Publishing.

Resources To Analyze Articles