Skip to main content

Choosing and evaluating your sources

Choosing the right sources to support your argument is critical to the success of any essay or research project. Not only is it important to choose high quality sources, it is also important to consider what type of source is the best match for the information you need. This guide will help you understand the range of information you might use as a nursing student and future health professional, but also how to critically evaluate what you find to ensure that it is credible.

Evaluating sources for credibility

Key questions when evaluating sources

When assessing the quality of a source, here are some questions to consider:

 

How to spot fake news (and other suspicious sources)

The questions posed in this infographic are helpful to consider when choosing any source, not just avoiding fake news.

IFLA, 2017, CC-BY-4.0

What kind of information do you need?

Considering the relevance and appropriateness of a source is just as important when choosing sources as their credibility.

 

Click on each of the situations below to see what types of resources best meet that information need.

 

Find news about current events through newspapers (online or print), and increasingly, social media.

Examples: Calgary Herald, Lethbridge Herald, CBC News, Twitter
Find reports of research findings in scholarly (peer-reviewed) journal articles.

Examples: Journal of Advanced Nursing, International Journal of Nursing Studies
Find this kind of information on professional association websites

Examples: College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA), Canadian Nurses Association (CNA)
Find this information in your textbooks or other books in the Library collection

Examples: Lippincott Visual Nursing : A Guide to Clinical Diseases, Skills, and Treatments, Oxford Handbook of Critical Care Nursing
Find this kind of information on the websites of government organizations like Statistics Canada, non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Institute for Health Information, or from charities or non-profits sponsoring research or collecting data from their service users.

Examples: Nursing in Canada, 2019 from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey
Find historical analysis in books and some journal articles.

Examples: Caregiving on the periphery: Historical perspectives on nursing and midwifery in Canada, Nursing History Review

Adapted from Celia Brinkerhoff, Doing Research, CC-BY-4.0

Understanding the information timeline

Overview of types of sources

Media Sources (Newspapers, Magazines, Television, etc.)

Strengths:

  • The media is a great place to go for information on current events and local news. It can also be a source of examples of public opinion.

Weaknesses:

  • The articles do not list where the information came from (no references).
  • The people writing or reporting on the story may not be experts on the topic. This makes it difficult for them to place scientific and health related research in the proper context. For a recent example, read "How Those Bogus Reports on 'Ineffective' Neck Gaiters Got Started" in Scientific American.
  • Sometimes the stories are written or reported in a way to entertain viewers, or persuade the reader to a particular side of the argument.

Search tips:

  • Many media sources are freely available on the internet. Warning: these articles may not be online forever. Visit the NURS- Finding popular media sources for more information on how to find health related newspaper and magazine articles.

Trade Journals or Magazines (e.g. Alberta RN, Canadian Nurse)

Strengths

  • Trade magazines like Alberta RN highlight issues of interest to working nurses. The writing is more like a magazine, with short pieces and less formal writing.

Weaknesses

  • Not all of the articles are written by experts in the field - some are written by freelance journalists. 
  • Most of the articles do not undergo peer review (review by experts in the field) before they are published.

Search tips

  • Many of these publications are included in the Library's search tools. Be careful - some of the articles are mistakenly categorized as peer reviewed in these tools (see the NURS - Finding Scholarly Articles page for more details).
Government and Professional Association websites and documents

Strengths:

  • There are a lot of useful sources online, including government documents and publications from professional associations. 
  • It would be potentially embarrassing for these organizations to post incorrect information, so is some control around what gets published/posted. However, we wouldn't consider them to be peer reviewed.

Weaknesses:

  • Not all of the pages on government websites are updated frequently - always check for the date it was last updated.
  • Often these sources do not provide references or citations, or list the authors involved in their creation so we can judge their expertise.
  • Sometimes, government policies clash with the opinions of researchers and health professionals working in the field (for example, recent discussions around supervised injection sites in Alberta). 

Search tips:

  • Limit your search to Canadian federal government by typing the following in Google

“food guide” site:gc.ca (limits to Canadian government websites)

Scholarly Articles

Strengths:

  • Scholarly articles report on new research findings.
  • They are written by experts and reviewed by experts before they are published (peer review).
  • They list their sources so that you can judge the quality of their evidence (list of references).

Weaknesses:

  • They are written for experts in the field, so they may use terminology that you are not familiar with. Be patient, give yourself lots of time to read the article, and don’t be afraid to look up unfamiliar words or concepts in a dictionary.

Search tips:

  • Most scholarly articles are not freely available through Google. However, the library pays for access to this material on your behalf. Visit the NURS - Finding Scholarly Articles guide to learn more about how to find and identify them.

Books (e.g. Canadian Fundamentals of Nursing)

Strengths

  • Books provide a in-depth investigation of a topic
  • Some books are written by experts in the field (e.g. your textbooks) and cite the sources they use.

Weaknesses

  • They take a long time to write and publish, so information may not be as current as some other sources.
  • Not all books take scholarly approaches to the topic or cite their sources.
  • Some books do go through a review process involving other experts in the field (e.g. textbooks and books published by university presses or academic publishing companies), but that isn't always the case.

Tips for finding books

  • Not all of the books in the MRU Library are scholarly - look for ones that list the authors and what universities they are affiliated with, and provide references throughout. Use LibrarySearch to search for both print and electronic books in our collection.

Librarian

Cari Merkley's picture
Cari Merkley

Contact:
Email: cmerkley@mtroyal.ca
Phone: 403.440.5068
Office: EL4423U