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Literature searching: How to find and use databases: 5. Evaluating sources
An introduction to undertaking literature searches. Planning your search, selecting search terms and constructing searches. Evaluating material you find, and recording and referencing the sources you use.
Once you’ve undertaken searches and found results, evaluate the material and information you have found. Just because you have found it doesn’t mean it is high quality – think about who the author is, when it was written, is it biased and is it well-researched. Some of the information in abstract records can help with this.
Questions to ask when evaluating a source
Whowrote it? What expertise, authority, qualifications or experience does the author have? What else have they written? Is the publisher an academic publisher or a recognised institution? Is an article published in a peer-reviewed journal?
Whenwas the work published? Are there more recent versions or editions? Has research moved on since publication?
Wherewas the work published? Where was it written? Which geographical areas or jurisdictions is it applicable to?
Whywas it written? Is there any bias apparent? Does the author or publisher have a vested interest in the research? Is any bias declared? (That there is bias in a document is not necessarily a reason to dismiss it – but it is something to take into consideration in evaluating the work.)
Whatis the content of the source? Is it relevant to your research topic? Is it accurate and well-researched? Does it contain appropriate references and is the methodology clear and reliable?
The CARS Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) is designed for ease of use. Few sources will meet every criterion in the list, and even those that do may not possess the highest level of quality possible. But if you learn to use the criteria in this list, you will be much better able to separate the high-quality information from the poor-quality information.
Articles in peer-reviewed journals are subject to a process of academic evaluation designed to maintain standards of quality in research. Database services often provide an option to limit results to peer-reviewed journals.
Peer-reviewed articles are generally regarded as being of higher academic quality than non-peer-reviewed articles.
Tools to help with evaluation
When making evaluative judgments, abstracting and indexing databases can help you by providing supplementary information about a document. This means that you can often make an initial judgment about the value of the source before taking the step of accessing and reading the full-text.
An abstract record may provide not only a brief summary of the document, but also information about:
the author's affiliation (any institution or organisation the author is associated with)
the date of publication
the location (either where the document was published or the geographical focus of the text)
the main subjects and keywords associated with the document
whether published in a scholarly or peer-reviewed publication
In addition, abstract records may provide citation information:
how many publications the document you have found cites
how many times the document you have found has been cited.
Many subject-specific databases provide abstract records and citation information.
However, key multi-disciplinary abstracting and indexing databases providing citation information include:
SCOPUSThis link opens in a new windowScopus is a comprehensive scientific, medical, technical and social science database containing all relevant literature.
Off campus? Use your University DS login. Access restrictions apply.
Web of Science - all databasesThis link opens in a new windowWeb of Science is a platform consisting of multiple databases designed to support scientific and scholarly research. Content spans multiple disciplines, document types and formats.