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Identifying and evaluating sources

Scholarly Journal Articles
Strengths: often based on research findings or extensive review, written by experts, reviewed by experts, provides evidence
Weaknesses: Sometimes written using discipline-specific language or terminology, hard to understand,

Books and Book Chapters
Strengths: Provides an in-depth investigation into a topic
Weaknesses: too long, sometimes hard to tell whether it is scholarly

Strengths: short, contains background information on a topic, normally a great starting point when you are just learning about a topic
Weaknesses: too short, print encyclopedias are out of date quickly, Wikipedia has reliability issues

Media Sources (news, online magazine articles)
Strengths: Good for current information
Weaknesses: Sometimes biased, sometimes written to entertain, often not written by experts

Websites & Social Media
Strengths: Highly accessible, includes government info
Weaknesses: It is hard to assess credibility and reliability...anyone can post online or create a website

An academic publication is something that is generally written by an expert in a particular field.  The primary audience of these articles is members of the academic community...We often use the words, "scholarly", "peer-reviewed", "academic" or "refereed" interchangeably. They all mean essentially the same thing.  When something is peer-reviewed or refereed, we are referring to the editorial and publication process in which scholars in the same field review the research and findings before the article is published.

  Scholarly / Peer-Reviewed Popular/Not Scholarly
Author Expert Journalist / Professional Writer
Review Reviewed by an editorial board or other experts ("peers") Reviewed by an editor
Audience /
Scholars and students / Academic
Technical language
General public
Easy to understand

Original Research
Uses previously published literature for background

News and practical information
Uses a variety of sources for background 
Sources Always cited Sometimes cited
Examples Peer-reviewed articles
Scholarly books
Literature reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analysis
Thesis and dissertations

Magazine articles
Newspaper articles
Blog articles
Social media


Other tips to consider when making sure the source you choose is scholarly: 

  1. What are the author’s credentials? Is it written by an expert?
  2. Published in a journal (is there a DOI?) If you are not sure if it is a journal article enter the title of the publication into Ulrichs Web
  3. Academic language
  4. Includes reference list
  5. Length
  6. A "Received" and "Accepted" date
  7. Is it an actual article? Sometimes other types of content are included in scholarly publications, such as editorials/opinion pieces and book reviews.  Make sure you are looking at an article (not an editorial or a book review). 

How do you know if you have a credible, reliable, relevant source? Consider the following:

  1. Is the author qualified to write about the topic?
  2. Does the resource incorporate quality reports or research?
  3. Is the language used objective, or emotional?
  4. Is the information opinion-based, or can you identify some bias?
  5. Does the resource actually address your research topic or problem?
  6. Who is the intended audience?

Your resource doesn't necessarily have to meet all of these criteria.

Not all news is created equally.

Take a look at the following two articles that report on a similar topic.  What types of sources does each article cite? Is there  perhaps evidence of bias? Ultimately, which article is more credible? 

Article 1

Article 2

Is it Scholarly? 

Consider the video and common components of a scholarly article.  Also, think about things we have just discussed (authority, credibility, rigour (are there citations/evidence of research?) Which of the three articles is a scholarly article?

Source 1

Source 2

Source 3

Information, in any format, is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method.  The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences (ACRL par. 13).

  • Information creations are valued differently depending on the context and purpose for which they are created
  • Audience matters. Certain things are created for certain purposes and it doesn't really make one format of information better than another. It is up to us to discern what information process best fits our information need.
  • In your own creation process, understand that your choices in what type of information you use, impacts the purpose for which the information product you create will be used and the message it conveys. 
  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual refers to the recognition that information resources are drawn from their creators’ expertise and credibility based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.

Source 4

Searching for Sources

The MRU LibrarySearch tool - the main search box on the library homepage - is like Google for library resources. Use it to find information in all formats (articles, books, magazines, videos, etc.) through a single search.

And just like Google, your keywords tell LibrarySearch what your are looking for.  Using specific keywords that describe your exact topic in detail, and in context, will help the search understand what you need.

Search for articles, books/chapters, multimedia...


Other LibrarySearch Tips:​

  • Sign in to save items you "pin" to your favourites list (look for the push pin icon). This also allows you to save searches. 
  • Use the filters on the right to limit your results (e.g. relevant subjects, preferred resource type, etc.).
  • Filtering results for only peer-reviewed sources only applies to scholarly journal articles.
  • Use the advanced search to search for keywords in specific fields; useful for searching for a specific title or author.

Phrase searching: Use "quotation marks" around key ideas made up of multiple words.

  • "public art"
  • "artist statement"

Truncation: Use an asterisk * to find different endings to your keywords

  • art* = artist, artwork, artisan
  • controvers* = controversy, controversial

Synonyms: Using different keywords to describe the same idea will retrieve results that use any of those terms. Note that synonyms are most effective in brackets with the word OR between them.

  • (benefits OR challenges)
  • (artist OR sculptor OR creator)

Search Google Scholar

Google Scholar is another great way to find peer-reviewed/scholarly material. Google scholar has a nifty citation chaining function.  The Cited by function will forward you to indexed scholarly material that has cited an article that you may be interested in.  The Related Articles link will direct you to similar articles that may have the same metadata or keywords. 

The Advanced Search is found by clicking the menu icon (top left).
Besides providing links to articles in MRU databases, Google Scholar links to online repositories that contain articles the author has been allowed to upload. and ResearchGate are among the repositories searched by Google Scholar.

By clicking on the Settings icon, you can select library links to show library access for up to 5 libraries (type in Mount Royal and click on save).  If you are logged into MRU library, links should automatically populate if you are running a Google search in another window. 

Note: Google uses different commands: ~; -; +; but AND/OR also works

If you are searching Google (not Google Scholar), you can also limit your search to show specific websites. Eg:

  • (United Nations)
  • (Government of Canada)
  • (UNESCO)
  • (World Bank)
  • (World Trade Organization)

Citation Resources

To view Tiff's slides, and to complete a quick APA activity please follow this link: 

SLS APA Referencing for SLGY

If you need general citation support or help or to access APA, Chicago and MLA guides and more, please try the following links!

  • Cite Sources: Learn the correct way to cite sources by using these guides, tutorials, and videos.
  • Referencing Webinars: APA & MLA. Referencing Webinars are 75 minutes long.  Registration is required.
  • Online Appointments: Personalized online 30-minute appointments with a Learning Strategist.

Other Recommended Resources

The MRU Library has 260+ databases to choose from. To help you find the right database for your research, we have highlighted some recommended resources in each discipline.

Finding sources about ethnographic writing and research at MRU

Finding Statistics and Data


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