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HUM 115 - Critical Thinking: Evaluating Information

Popular vs. Scholarly Articles

Depending on the nature of your assignment, your instructor may require you to find scholarly articles.  It's important to understand the difference between popular and scholarly sources. 

Here are a few things to look for:

Scholarly sources have:

1. Many pages

2. No ads

3. They often have charts and graphs, sometimes including statistical information.

4. Academic or more scholarly language.

5. Lots of footnotes and endnotes.

6. An abstract (brief summary of the article).

7. Authors are clearly listed, usually affiliated with educational institutions.

8. Extensive bibliography or list of references.

Popular (Magazines) sources have:

1.  Glossy pages

2. Several page articles (shorter than scholarly)

3. Ads

4. Understandable or simple language.

For a further explanation, see the video below.

Why Can't I Use Wikipedia?




Wikipedia strives for a higher level of reliability with constantly updated articles and its own system of peer-review.  Still, Wikipedia has different priorities than an academic peer-reviewed resource, and therefore it should not be used in place of an academic source. 

Wikipedia's design trades absolute reliability for convenience and quick updating.  You can never be certain that what you read on Wikipedia doesn't include misinformation that has yet to be corrected.  Likewise, while Wikipedia does include a system for citation and the editorial evaluation of its entries, its real-time and open updating means that you can never be absolutely certain you're reading accurate information.

But perhaps most important fact to remember is that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.  Encyclopedias are general information sources that are best used for gaining a quick overview of a topic, and they provide a list of resources and topics to guide you in further exploration.  Encyclopedia articles generally avoid controversy, and the low level of detail provided by an encyclopedia is not sufficient for your academic research.

You can use Wikipedia as a starting point to figure out the initial facts about a topic and related information but refrain from using it as a source or citing it in your paper. 

Use the CRAAP Test to evaluate the following websites.

Which of these sites would be best to use for a college-level paper or presentation on the health benefits of green tea?




S.I.F.T: Evaluating Information in a Digital World
Fact Check your Feed

Do you know the website of source of information? Start with a plan. Check your bearings and consider what you want to know and your purpose. Usually, a quick check is enough. Sometimes you'll want a deep investigation to verify all claims made and check all the sources. 

Investigate the Source
Know the expertise and agenda of your source so you can interpret it. Look up your source in Wikipedia. Consider what other sites say about your source. A fact checking site may help. Read carefully and consider while you click. Open multiple tabs.

Find Trusted Coverage
Find trusted reporting or analysis, look for the best information on a topic, or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something more in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Look beyond the first few results, use CTRL+F, and consider the URL. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you investigate further.

Trace Information Back to the Source
Trace claims, quotes, and media be to the original context. What was clipped out of story/photo/video and what happened before or after? When you read the research paper mentioned in a news story, was it accurately reported? Find the original source to see the context, so you can decide if the version you have is accurately presented. 


The SIFT method was created by Mike Caulfield. All SIFT information on this page is adapted from his materials with a CC BY 4.0 license
Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. University of Oregon Libraries.