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PLS 2003 Plants that Feed the World: Information Literacy

Criteria for Evaluating a Resource

Use these 5 Criteria to Evaluate Each Resource

Use these 5 criteria to determine if a resource, whether print or online, is high quality and a good match for your project or paper.

  • Authority
    Who created the resource? Are the author, organization, affiliations, and publisher clearly shown? If the page is web-based, do hyperlinks provide  information about the organization? Does the author have credentials or expertise in the subject matter? Is the resource from a government agency, university, company, non-profit organization?

  • Accuracy
    Is the information contained in the source properly cited? Is there a bibliography or reference list? Can you verify the information in other sources? Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors? Is the statistical data clearly explained? Are charts and graphs properly represented and cited?

  • Objectivity
    Is the resource free of advertising? Or, if there is advertising, is it clearly separate from content? Is there any bias in the content? Is the sponsoring organization motivated to report facts from a particular perspective?

  • Currency
    How current is the content? When was the information gathered? When was the resource created? When was it last updated or revised? 

  • Coverage
    Is the information complete? Does it cover the subject in depth? Does it match your information needs?

    These criteria were adapted from a worksheet used by the Widener Science Library of Harvard.


Article Types

What type of article have you found?

The categories are not rigid; some of them overlap.  Here are some characteristics to help identify an article type:

Research articles:

  • typically published in a journal
  • highly likely to have been peer-reviewed
  • structured like lab reports, with sections for:  abstract (summary of the article), introduction and literature review (including hypothesis or experimental question and its importance), method (describing processes used), results (data collected), discussion (analysis or interpretation of the data) and conclusions.
  • Their purpose is to serve as the primary (first) report of research, and they are used by practitioners as a theoretical base for their applications. Research articles contain highly technical language for an experienced or educated audience.
  • Not every article in a peer-reviewed journal is peer-reviewed.  Many academic or research journals also have editorials, comments, conference summaries, and reviews.

Peer reviewed (or Refereed):

  • usually (but not always) research articles
  • frequently, but not always, identified by string of acceptance dates. When you see that time passed between submission of the draft and final acceptance, you know that the author’s peers reviewed the article for sense and value of the contribution, and submitted suggestions to make the article stronger.
  • usually identified by Ulrichs Global Serials Directory

Review articles:

  • summarize historical and current research on a particular topic
  • identify trends, replication of results, hypotheses that warrant further research
  • secondary sources (do not present original research)

Technical reports: (not peer reviewed)

  • are structured like case studies, e.g. "how I solved this problem."
  • May serve as a project report to the funding source, which may be a government agency.  Tech reports are not always available; they may be kept proprietary, especially if client is a non-governmental corporation.

Conference papers:

  • may report on a "work in progress," and be incomplete
  • In some cases the paper may be peer-reviewed, and sometimes only the abstract is peer-reviewed.  Conference papers might be published in conference proceedings, or the authors may wait to publish the complete version of the article in a peer-reviewed journal.

Trade publication articles: (not peer reviewed)

  • brief, informally structured articles that usually do not have references
  • published in magazines or trade journals
  • written by practitioners for practitioners
  • provide up-to-date news about products, meetings, and research summaries  

Popular articles:

  • published in magazines and news sources intended for general audiences.

Websites, press releases, encyclopedia entries:

  • Use with caution and evaluate for authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage.

Annotated Bibliography

What are Annotations?

Annotations critique the work and compare it to other works in the bibliography. An annnotation may vary in each bibliography where it appears, since the relevance of each work may change for each project.

What constitutes an annotated bibliography?

  • An organized list of citations to sources
  • For each source, a brief description of its:
    • accuracy or authority
    • relevance
    • quality and impact

Consider including the following elements in the annotation:

  • Author qualifications and any biases
  • Intended audience of the work
  • Brief description of results or conclusions
  • Special features, such as illustrations or data, that help the reader understand the work
  • Recency or time covered by the work
  • Impact of the work on the discipline
  • Relevance of the item to the bibliography
  • Comparison with other items in the bibliography

Note: Their suitability will depend on your discipline and the audience of your bibliography

Is it a primary source?

Q. What is a primary source?

A. Primary source materials are the original documents, created by participants or eye-witnesses. Diaries, letters, interviews are all primary sources. In the sciences, lab data, lab notebooks, and original test protocols could be considered primary documents. For example, in Computer Science source code or release notes would be a primary document. In Biology, field observation notes or images would be considered primary documents.

Q. What is a secondary source?

A. Secondary source materials describe, analyze or interpret primary source documents.  Examples include textbooks, encyclopedia, commentaries.

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