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Data H195: Evaluating Resources

Guide for Data Science Honors Thesis Seminar

Scholarly and Popular Sources

The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes, depending on your research question, but research assignments will often require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials. 

  Scholarly Popular
Authors: Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed
Examples: Journal of Asian History, New England Journal of Medicine, Chemical Reviews, Educational Psychologistbooks from University presses such as Oxford University Press and the University of California Press Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from popular publishers like Penguin and Random House
Focus: Specific and in-depth Broad overviews
Language: Dense; includes academic jargon Easier to read; defines specialized terms
Format: Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions Varies
Citations: Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text 
Before publication: Evaluated by peers (other scholars)  Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all
Audience: Specialists in the subject area: students, professors and the author's peers General readers; shouldn't require any special background
Design: Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations and advertising are more common
Purpose: Communicating research findings; education;  Entertainment; news

Quick Guide (Evaluating Sources)

When you encounter any kind of source, consider:

  1. Authority - Who is the author? What is their point of view? 
  2. Purpose - Why was the source created? Who is the intended audience?
  3. Publication & format - Where was it published? In what medium?
  4. Relevance - How is it relevant to your research? What is its scope?
  5. Date of publication - When was it written? Has it been updated?
  6. Documentation - Did they cite their sources? Who did they cite?