Research Guides

Evaluating Journal Articles

Type of Periodical

Questions to ask:

  • Is it a scholarly journal, trade magazine or popular magazine?
  • Is it an official publication of an industry, political group, or professional organization?

How to get answers:

Authority

Questions to ask:

  • Does the author know what they are writing about?
  • Is the publishing body an authentic organization?

How to get answers:

  • Find the author's webpage, CV, or resume on the Web.  What is their educational background and previous publishing history?  Are they writing in a field outside of their expertise?
  • Find the publisher's website.  Look closely to see if they are trying to sell something, or if they are sponsored by a larger for-profit organization.

Coverage & Usefulness

Questions to ask:

  • Does the article cover your research topic comprehensively?  Is it simply an overview, or does it only cover one small part of your topic?
  • Does the article support or disprove the argument you are making in your paper?

How to get answers:

  • Have a clear research question or thesis, and compare that with the information provided in the article.
  • Some articles may only cover one part of your research question, but will still be useful.
  • Don't avoid articles that disprove your argument--if you can show how they are wrong, misleading, or based on bad science, it can make your paper even stronger!

Purpose, Point of View, & Bias

Questions to ask:

  • Was the article written to inform you about an event / the results of a study?  Or was it written to persuade you to believe one side of an issue over the other?
  • If the subject covered is controversial, does the author acknowledge that?
  • Is the author leaving out research that disproves their argument?  Do they only cite research that supports their argument?

How to get answers:

  • Check carefully to see if the author favors one conclusion over another.  See if the author ignores or belittles any dissenting points of view.
  • Watch for opinions disguised as scientific conclusions.
  • Read through the article and check the Works Cited. See what types of resources the author uses to argue his or her point.

Soundness of Research

Questions to ask:

  • Was the research performed in the article valid and reliable? 
  • Does the author draw false conclusions that he or she shouldn't?

How to get answers:

  • Learn about research methods.  Find out how research is conducted, and what constitutes good research methodology.
  • See if the author admits to any weaknesses in his or her research methods.  This points to an honest and aware assessment of his or her research.
  • Learn about validity and reliability, and check to see if the article's findings are based on good science.
  • Learn about logical fallacies, especially post hochasty generalization, and false dichotomy. Check to see if the author uses any of these in his or her conclusions.

Bibliography or Works Cited

Questions to ask:

  • Does the article include a works cited?
  • Are the works cited fairly current, or are they mostly older sources?
  • Are the works cited popular or scholarly?

How to get answers:

Date of Publication

Questions to ask:

  • When was the article published?
  • Has the research been reproduced elsewhere with the same results? Has the research been disproven since the article was written?
  • For historical topics, have you viewed articles from the time period?

How to get answers:

  • Check the publication date.
  • Find the latest research on the same topic, and see how the article you are evaluating is mentioned.  Check to see if recent authors find holes in the article's research.
  • See if there have been editorials, follow-ups, or reproductions of the study (search in the same journal in which the article is published).
  • Historical articles, newspapers, and more recent reviews will give the best information for historical topics.

 

See also: Peer Review