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Even scholarly articles should be read with a critical eye:
That healthy skepticism is even more important when evaluating works found on the internet. Try to find out information about the authors and organizations behind the article. Do they have an agenda? Use the CRAAP test below to help you.
Call or email the library to let us know how we can help. Our toll-free number is 800-638-1821.
Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact information.
Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
Do a quick search on the authors. Are they credible? Are they real?
Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgment.
Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.
The CRAAP Test is a useful guide to evaluating resources. CRAAP is an acronym for the general categories of criteria that can be used to evaluate information you find. Use the CRAAP Test to decide if information is appropriate for your research.
Trade journals are written specifically for practitioners by other members who are knowledgeable in the field. They’re a valuable source for current trends, best practices, lessons learned and much more. However, they don’t undergo a peer-review process nor are they written or structured in a way designed to present and defend new, original research for the profession. The table below outlines the key differences between scholarly and trade journals.
|Audience||Researchers, students||Professionals in the field|
|Author||Current researcher or scholar||Professionals or journalists with background|
|Language||University level, specialized vocabulary||Specialist jargon and terminology|
|Peer-review||Yes||No; reviewed by staff editors|
|Publisher||Professional organizations, universities, research institutes||Professional associations, commercial enterprises|
|Purpose||Report on original research, refute or support theories of others||Focus on information for professionals|
|Cites||Footnotes, bibliographies, in-text citations||May have footnotes or bibliography|
Scholarly articles have an authority and a credibility that other sources do not have. They are written by experts for experts and students in the field. Peer-reviewed, or refereed, articles undergo a higher level of scrutiny than other articles accepted for publication. After an article is submitted to a journal, the editor will then send it out to other researchers in the field who will check the research methodology, look at the data, and generally evaluate the quality of the manuscript.
Articles in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals almost always report on original research. Scholarly articles generally contain the following elements:
Keep in mind your own research question(s) as you begin to read the article. Don’t read it like you would a book, line by line, and page by page.
Read the abstract first to see if you should even bother reading the whole article. The abstract will often tell you why the author(s) did the study, how they did it, what they found and what it means. Can you find what the stated purpose of the article is and does it relate to your research question? If yes, then read on.
Then, skim the structure of the article. Scholarly articles will typically have an Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusion sections.
Next, jump ahead in the article to the Discussion and Conclusion sections of the paper. Sometimes there may also be a paragraph on directions for future research. In the Discussion section, the author(s) will typically try to describe how the results support the conclusion. Are the findings unique or persuasive? Do you agree or disagree with the claims? Ask yourself again if the paper meets your research needs. If it does not, set it aside. If it does, take good notes and keep going.
Now skip back to the Introduction and see if you can identify the author’s hypothesis or intent. The introduction may contain a summary of previous related research or there may be a separate section called Literature Review. Try to understand how this paper relates to others in the field. You may want to note important works cited here so you can look at those papers as well.
By now, you may have gotten what you need from the article. However, you can read on in the Methods section to learn more about how the study was conducted. The Results section will often contain data, statistics, graphs which you may skim thru in order to flesh out your understanding of the Discussion section. You probably do not need to fully immerse yourself though unless you are well-acquainted with statistics and want to replicate the study yourself.
Finally, go back and closely read a second time any section(s) that offered particularly useful material when you read it the first time. Make sure you are satisfied with your notes.
A brief word on statistics
There’s not enough space here to write in-depth on the statistics you’ll encounter in the scholarly articles you find. You may already have some passing familiarity with basic terms, but if not, there are some very helpful online sites you can refer to below. Some quick tips:
While you’re reading the article take time to carefully record some useful quotes. Don’t fall into the habit of jotting down or typing out quotes without taking care to note where exactly you read them. This can lead to charges of plagiarism later. The time you put into capturing good citations will save you a lot more time down the road when preparing your own Literature Review section and your Reference List.
Quotes can take two forms, either paraphrasing or direct quotation. Paraphrasing by restating an author’s idea using your own words is preferred but you can quote directly from time to time if necessary. Here are two examples of how your quotes should appear.
Please see the template in part 3 for tips on taking notes and recording quotes.
|Complete citation||Author(s). Publication year. Article title. Journal title, volume number, issue number, page numbers|
|Accessed online? URL and date accessed|
|Purpose of the study|
|Central hypothesis or claim|
|Significance||How does it relate to your research idea and the work of others?|
|Suggestions for further research?|
|Quote 2||You may want more than two quotes.|
|Cited references to follow-up on later|
Fire Engineering, Firehouse, EMS World and others are trade journals, which are written by practitioners for other members of the field. These articles do not undergo peer review nor are they designed to present original research for the profession, but they are a valuable resource for trends, best practices and lessons learned.
Another resource that will up the credibility quotient of your research project is the use of statistics from credible sources such as those listed below.
A research log is a diary of the databases, search terms and search strategies you used; the resources you found; and your evaluation of these resources. Documenting your research process helps you keep track of your steps as well as think about the choices you make as a researcher. This log will help you see the big picture of research and more carefully consider the resources you select for an assignment.
For each source in your log, document the following: