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English 102: College Writing (Prof. Miller): Evaluating Sources

Scholarly, Trade, & Popular Articles

Identifying scholarly articles involves analysis of the article's content. The chart below is meant to help you in this process; however, any one criteria by itself may not indicate that an article is scholarly. For example, a 30 page photo spread in People about stars at the Academy Awards is not scholarly, even though it is long.


Journal Cover  Image result for scholarly journal cover  

Scholarly Journals

Image result for trade magazine cover    

Trade or Professional Magazines

Magazine Cover     national geographic cover      Popular Magazines

Length Longer articles (often 10+ pages), providing in-depth analysis  Mid-length articles (often 2-8 pages), providing practical guidance Shorter articles (often <1-5 pages), providing broader overviews
Author An expert or specialist in the field (often a professor), name and credentials always provided Usually someone working in the field, with hands-on experience; some staff writers Usually a staff writer or a journalist, name and credentials often not provided
Language Professional language, jargon, theoretical terms Some jargon and technical terms Non-technical language 
Likely Audience  Scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students) Other people working in the industry  Anyone
Advertisements Few or none Some -- products to sell to practitioners in that industry Many -- products for the general public
Format/Structure Usually structured, with likely sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography Sometimes has sub-sections for organization No specific format or structure
Special Features Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs Some illustrations; practical guidelines, best practices, lesson plans, how-to, or other hands-on direction Glossy/color illustrations or graphics, usually for advertising purposes
Editors Reviewed and critically evaluated by several editors. Often refereed or peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Editorial board of other practitioners or professionals in the field, but no external peer review Not evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors or other journalists on staff
Credits Bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always present to document research Usually no formal bibliography, although references to other research are often mentioned in-text No bibliography, although references to other research are sometimes mentioned in-text

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Video from North Carolina State University Libraries

Using the 5 Ws to Evaluate Sources


  • Who is the author of the source?
  • What do you know about the author/s -- do they have expertise in the field they are writing about?
  • Who is the audience for the source? Look for clues based on where it was published, the type of language and format used?


  • What does the author have to say about your topic?
  • What argument/evidence do they use to support their position?
  • What are the sources they used to create the information?
  • What sort of biases are represented in the source?


  • When was the information published?
  • Are there dates mentioned in the work itself?
  • Is the information current enough to support your argument?


  • Where does the author/s work?
  • Where can you go to learn more about
  • Is the source funded by anyone?


  • Why is this information useful in supporting your claims?
  • Why should you use this source?

Based on Kathy Schrock's The 5W's of Web Site Evaluation

It is Peer Reviewed?

A scholarly journal that uses the peer review process before publishing articles is described as a refereed journal. 

An article that has undergone scrutiny of other scholars and researchers is described as a peer-reviewed article.

Many databases provide a search limiter that help you eliminate publications such as magazines, newspapers, and trade journals. Look for a limiter option such as this:

When searching for articles using Google Scholar, however, you need to ascertain that a journal is refereed. Use the tools on this page, such as Ulrichsweb to help you identify this information.