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ESPM 10: Environmental Issues: Evaluate, Write

Research resources for ESPM C10. Relationship between human society and the natural environment.

Critical evaluation

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.

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.

Other Indicators:

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:

Peer Reviewed..

Scholarly PEER REVIEW or refereeing is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of experts in the same field, before a paper is published in a journal or as a book.

peer review helps the publisher, editor-in-chief or the editorial board decide whether the work should be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected. Peer review requires a community of experts in a given (and often narrowly defined) field, who are qualified and able to perform reasonably impartial review.

Peer review is generally considered necessary for academic quality and is used in most major scientific journals, but does by no means prevent publication of all invalid research. Traditionally, peer reviewers have been anonymous, but there is currently a significant amount of open peer review, where the comments are visible to readers, generally with the identities of the peer reviewers disclosed as well.


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 reads the article for content, scholarly soundness, academic value, correctness. 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, Newsweek and US News & World Report. Articles in these publications tend to be written by staff writers or 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 database like Start Your Search, limit your search to scholarly or peer-reviewed 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.

Sources for evaluation of articles

A short guide to writing about biology / Jan A. Pechenik. Pearson / Longman, 2007.

Duke Writing Studio: How to Read and Review a Scientific Journal article: writing summaries and critiques

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

Critical Appraisal of Scientific Articles. du Prel JB, Röhrig B, Blettner M. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2009 February; 106(7): 100–105.

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