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Evaluate for Quality: sub-module 5 of 5 of how to research

Now you're ready to evaluate the information you find on the web and in scholarly articles from Library databases or Google Scholar, for quality. Keep in mind that not all the information you find online is credible and reliable so you must take a close look at what you are using. Use the tips below to determine whether or not you should use a particular source for your research assignment. You want to find the best information possible.

 

Tips

  • Evaluate everything you find.Remember not everything you find online is reliable. Evaluate the resources you use for your assignment.
  • Use an evaluation checklist.Use the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose (CRAAP) Evaluation Checklist, or another evaluation tool when selecting websites. These evaluation tools will help you identify the best possible resources for your assignment.
  • Evaluate journal articles critically.Just because they are published in academic journals, does not mean they shouldn't be evaluated for validity. Take a look at the article sections, and evaluate information shared by the authors critically.
  • Consider content in Open Access Journals.Some open access journals are more reliable than others. Whenever using this type of an information source, try to find out as much as possible about the journal itself, and its article selection process.

Evaluating Open Access Journals

Open access journals are academic online publications, made available to readers without subscription fees, free of charge.  In a typical publishing agreement, the author submits his/her paper to a publisher, and the publisher sells access to that work through a payment structure (subscription, one time access/download, fixed term access).

When working with open access journal articles, make sure to evaluate them critically, by asking the following questions:

Who publishes the journal? Is the journal a member of OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) Opens in a new window? Is the journal published by a non-profit, or a for-profit organization? What is their open access policy? Is the journal itself a member of DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) Opens in a new window?
Is the journal newly established? How often are new issues released? Be weary of new journals with very frequent publication schedules.
Does the journal have a subject scope? Or is it multidisciplinary? Be weary of journals without a topical focus.

 

Does the journal solicit articles, or is there a submission process in place? What is the submission process? What are their acceptance timelines? You should be able to find all of this information on their website.
Is the journal peer-reviewed? Who are the reviewers? Who are the Editors? What is their expertise? What kind of a peer review process does the journal follow - single/double blind, open, transparent Opens in a new window?
Are researchers referencing articles published in the journal to support their work? A Google Scholar search will indicate whether or not articles published in a journal are being cited by others.

 

Take a look at an example of a search for the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning Journal Opens in a new window. Look at the Cited bynumber.
Is the journal indexed in major databases or index services? You may want to check Wikipedia if this information isn't listed on the journal's website?
Are the authors all from the same institution? Are there any repeated authors or groups or is there one dominant author? Is the author affliated with a reputable institution or university? Does that institution or university have a program or expertise in the field that is being written about?

The above checklist is based on content developed by Ryerson University Library and Archives Opens in a new window.

Video: Website Evaluation using C.R.A.A.P.

Watch this video to understand what the C.R.A.A.P. Evaluation Checklist stands for, and how you can use it.

Website Evaluation using C.R.A.A.P. Video Transcript (PDF) Opens in a new window

Video: Evaluating Websites

Watch this video for a step-by-step overview of evaluating websites for academic use.

Evaluating Websites Video Transcript

Evaluating Journal Articles

Academic journal articles communicate or describe research on a specific subject. Scholarly journal articles present original research, while other comment on previously published research on a topic, in literature reviews.


When evaluating academic journal articles for quality, take a look at the individual sections of the paper.

 

The Abstract is a summary of an article. An Abstract provides a big picture overview of what the article is about, synthesizing the most important information. It should also identify both the purpose of the research, as well as its conclusions.

Question to ask:
  1. According to the abstract, what is the main point of the article?

The Introduction should give you an understanding of what is being researched, how, and why the research is of importance. When you read the introduction section of a journal article, you should have a clear idea of what the article is about, and what the research focus is.

An Introduction will identify the importance of the research to the academic field, and provide you with a clear hypothesis or a research question/statement.

Questions to ask:
  1. What issues do the authors seem concerned about?
  2. What is the authors’ research question or hypothesis?
The Literature Review is a comprehensive scan of previously published research on a specific topic. Authors use the literature review to provide readers with a current understanding of the topic, and identify existing research gaps.

Questions to ask:
  1. How relevant is the literature review to the article's research question/s?
  2. Does the literature review include opposing viewpoints?
In the Methods section, you should be able to find information about the authors' research process. Was the research qualitative or quantitative? How big was their sample group/test population? On occasion authors will include the full research instrument in the Appendix (at the end of the article). The Methodology section might feature tables, statistical analyses, calculations, and questions asked as part of the research.

Questions to ask:
  1. What type of study did the authors undertake to arrive at their results (e.g. randomized trials, case studies)?
  2. How was the data collected (e.g. survey, focus groups, individual interviews)?
  3. How extensive was the population sample?

The Results section is where you find information about the final results of the authors' research. Here, you should be able to read about, the analyzed results of the study, as well as have access to raw statistical data.

Are these results shared with the readers? Are they clearly stated? Is there access to supporting analysis such as graphs, charts, tables that are clear and easy to follow? do you have access to the statistics? Can you figure out the results of the experiment, survey, etc, without a discussion of why they occurred?

Questions to ask:
  1. What are the authors' findings?
  2. Are the findings aligned to the main research question/s?
  3. Do the authors address the problems or limitations of their research methods?
Check out the discussion of the results and the authors overall observations in the conclusion of the article. Are all the results of the experiment, survey, etc discussed? Are the conclusions drawn from this experiment based on enough data? Are there previous studies done on this topic and are they part of the discussion, or are you left confused?

Questions to ask:
  1. What evidence do authors provide to support or dispute their research question?
  2. Do the authors provide any recommendations as a result of their findings?
  3. Are any conflicts of interest disclosed?
The References section provides you with a full scope of research consulted as part of the authors' project. References are an excellent way to find additional journal articles on a specific topic.