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Evolution of Genomes, Cells and Development: MCB 143: Evaluate, Write

Selected article indexes, literature reviews, citation evaluation, primary source information

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.

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. To be published in a scholarly journal, an article must go through the peer review process in which a group of experts review the content, scholarly soundness and academic value. 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.

Tip: When searching a journal index such as Academic Search Complete, limit your search to 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. It may help 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:

Websites. While most of the strategies listed above for evaluating information can be applied to any type of resource (books, articles or websites), the unfiltered, free-form nature of the Web provides unique challenges in determining a website's appropriateness as an information source.
When evaluating a website check:

  • Is there an author of the document? Can you determine the producer's credentials? If you cannot determine the author of the site, think twice about using it as a resource.
  • Is the site sponsored by a group or organization? If it is sponsored by a group or company, does the group advocate a certain philosophy? Try to find and read "About Us" or similar information.
  • Is there any bias evident in the site? Is the site trying to sell you a product? Ask why the page was put on the web?
  • Is there a date on the website? Is it sufficiently up-to-date? If there is no date, again, think twice about using it. Undated factual or statistical information should never be used.
  • How credible and authentic are the links to other resources? Are the links evaluated or annotated in any way?

For a more detailed checklist of what to look for in a website and how to do it, see Evaluating Web Pages: How and Why.

Reference Sources

Book reviews can appear in a journal, magazine or newspaper -- provides a descriptive, evaluative discussion of a recently published book. Reading how others have evaluated a book may help you decide whether to use that book in your research. There are a number of indexes you can consult that provide references to book reviews:

Journal Indexes.You may find reviews of books in many journal indexes by searching on the title and/or author of the book. Select a general journal index or an index for the subject area of the book.

Citation indexes.
To see the impact a particular source has had on scholarship, use a citation index for a list of when and where a work has been cited. In other words, you could consult a Citation Index to see all the articles that have cited David Ho's research on HIV.

Use Web of Science: Science Citation Index (1945-present), Social Sciences Citation Index (1970-present), Arts & Humanities Citation Index (1975-present)

Sources for evaluation of articles

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

The Cochrane Collaboration, Glossary -
This list contains concise definitions of terms used in systematic or literature reviews.

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

Grey Literature

Grey Literature refers to publications not produced by commercial publishers, such as reports (pre-prints, progress and advanced reports, technical reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, and other documents. They are often produced by government entities, research institutions, or NGOs/IGOs.

The Grey Literature Report is a bimonthly publication of The New York Academy of Medicine Library alerting readers to new grey literature publications in health services research and selected public health topics.

Google and other search engines can be useful for finding grey literature.
Improve your search using:
    • Quotes for phrase searching: "social marketing"
    • Site: specify a particular site or domain: "social marketing" (for a domain search); "social marketing"
    • Boolean search statements (eg, OR): ("social marketing" OR "audience segmentation")

National Technical Reports Library (NTRL): current and archived technical reports from government agencies.


Science Writing