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SW 7170 - Social Work Capstone: Evaluating Sources

Questions to Ask: Critically Reviewing Sources

  • WHO is behind the information​
    • Who provided the funds for the research study and is there any conflict of interest
    • Who actually completed the study or performed the research
  • WHAT is the peer-review process of the journal or article​
  • WHEN was it published​
    • What were the political, socio-economic, religious, etc. conditions at the time of the research
  • WHERE did their evidence come from​
    • Citation tracking
  • WHY was the information shared​
  • HOW does the information fit within the context of your topic

While you're the only one who can determine if an article is relevant to your research question, review tools can help you decided if the research is valid, if the results interpretable, and how applicable the results are to your clinical setting or organization. There are multiple tools and resources that you can use to critically evaluate a source, if the ones below don't work for your needs, you can search for additional tools using a basic search engine. 

Be Aware of Bias

"Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations."  - ACRL Framework for Information Literacy

Types of Bias (not a comprehensive list):

  • Analysis or Confirmation Bias (focuses on data that favors the research hypothesis instead of results as a whole)

  • Flawed Research Design or Design Bias (content is largely influenced by the preferences of the researcher rather than what works best for the research context)

  • Sampling Bias (when a survey sample is not completely random)

  • Cultural Bias 

"It is important to be mindful of introducing bias, as preconceived ideas about your subject area, whether intentional or not, can affect all stages of writing a literature review, from identifying literature sources, selecting articles to include and your evaluation of the evidence... Evaluation of the quality of studies and assessment of factors, such as study design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation and the conclusions drawn by article authors, [is] also essential."  - From Winchester, C. L., & Salji, M. (2016). Writing a literature review. Journal of Clinical Urology9(5), 308–312.

What Does Peer Review Mean?

Peer Review is "the process by which an academic journal passes a paper submitted for publication to independent experts, or others in the same occupation, for comments on its suitability and worth." Reviewers will evaluate the article for quality, credibility, and accuracy. - Oxford English Dictionary 

There are different types of Peer Review:

  • Open Peer Review
    • Authors and reviewers both know each other’s identities and affiliations
  • Blind Peer Review
    • Authors do not know who the reviewers are
    • Reviewers know the identities and affiliations of the authors 
  • Double Blind Peer Review
    • Authors do not know who the reviewers are
    • Reviewers do not know who the authors are
    • All indicators are removed (names and affiliations)

Not all journals are peer-reviewed - verify a journal is peer-reviewed by checking the author guidelines and publication information on the journal's website (a simple Google search of the journal title will work). Peer-reviewed journals do contain information that is itself not peer-reviewed, such as editorials, opinions, or letters. 

Remember to evaluate the article, not just the journal! 

Identifying Quality Information

People write for many different reasons - to inform, entertain, persuade, mislead, satirize, describe, etc. and the quality of the information can depend on the reason it was written or shared. Information changes as new facts, data, and knowledge comes to light. In an academic assignment, it is important to use information that is reliable, accurate, objective, and up-to-date. You will need to evaluate each source you locate, to determine if it is something that will support or contradict your thesis and/or topic. You will look at more sources than you need, and that is okay, and encouraged! The more sources you read, the more informed you are about the topic and can pick the best resources for your assignment.

Below is a list of videos, eBooks, and websites that can help you evaluate information and sources.