What is the breadth of the article, book, website or other material? Is this a general work that provides an overview of the topic or is it specifically focused on only one aspect of your topic. Does the breadth of the work match your own expectations? Does the resource cover the time period that you are interested in?
Who is the intended audience? Is the material too technical or too clinical? Is it too elementary or basic? You are more likely to retrieve articles written for the appropriate audience if you start off in the right index. For instance, to find resources listing the latest statistics on heart disease you may want to avoid the Medline database which will bring up articles designed for practicing clinicians rather than social science researchers.
When was the source published? If it is a website, when was it last updated? Avoid using undated websites. Library catalogs and periodical indexes always indicate the publication date in the bibliographic citation.
Scholarly vs. Popular
A scholarly journal is published by and for experts. In order to be published in a scholarly journal, an article must go through the peer review process in which a group of experts reviews it for content, scholarly soundness and academic value. In most cases, articles in scholarly journals present new, previously un-published research.
Scholarly sources will almost always include: Bibliography and footnotes and Author's name and academic credentials
Popular magazines range from publications such as Scientific American to news magazines like Newsweek and US News & World Report. Articles in these publications tend to be written by staff writers or freelance journalists and are geared towards a general audience. Articles in popular magazines are more likely to be shorter than those in academic journals. While most magazines adhere to editorial standards, articles do not go through a peer review process and rarely contain bibliographic citations.
Tip: When searching a journal index such as Academic Search Complete, limit your search refereed publications. This will retrieve only scholarly journals matching your search terms.
Your searches in Web of Science will retrieve only scholarly articles since only academic journals are indexed in this database.
Who is the author? What are his or her academic credentials? What else has this author written? Sometimes information about the author is listed somewhere in the article. Other times, you may need to consult another resource to get background information on the author. Sometimes it helps to search the author's name in a general web search engine like Google.
Documentation. A bibliography, along with footnotes, indicate that the author has consulted other sources and serves to authenticate the information that he or she is presenting. In websites, expect links or footnotes documenting sources, and referring to additional resources and other viewpoints.
Objectivity. What point of view does the author represent? Is the article an editorial that is trying to argue a position? Is the website sponsored by a company or organization that advocates a certain philosophy? Is the article published in a magazine that has a particular editorial position? Consult these resources which indicate whether a publication is known to be conservative or progressive, or is affiliated with a particular advocacy group:
A short guide to writing about biology / Jan A. Pechenik. Pearson / Longman, 2007.
The Cochrane Collaboration, Glossary - http://www.cochrane.org/glossary/5#lettera
This list contains concise definitions of terms used in systematic or literature reviews.
1. Skim the article, no notes
2. Re-read carefully, take notes
3. Read the critical sections several times to understand fully
4. Describe the article in your own words, include key points,
5. Write a draft of your summary