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Government 2305/2306 - Smith, Wanda-Lee

Writing your political science research paper

Evaluating Sources: Ask Yourself...

1. Who is the author?

What credentials does the author have? If an individual author is not named who is the editor or sponsor? If the source is a web site, is there a link to a "home page" to see who is sponsoring the page?

2. What date was the information published and/or updated?


Is your topic time-sensitive so that you can only use the most updated information or is your topic more historically oriented?

3. Are there any special features such as a "works cited" to back up the information?

If there's not an actual "works cited," are there any internal references to other sources? If yes, what kind of sources are they? Do these sources supplement the information given? If links are provided, do the links work?

4. What is the overall purpose and tone?

Who is the intended audience? If the source is a web site, you can check the domain name for clues (.edu, .org, .com, .mil, .net) to determine what type of page this might be. Is there an "about" or "what is" link from either the information page or the "home page" that outlines the purpose of the pages? Are they trying to sell something?

5. What type of actual content are you getting?

Does it seem to offer opinions only? Is the author only offering their biased view of the topic or do they present multiple sides of the issue? To what depth does the source cover the topic? Does it seem to be a "surface" treatment? Are you getting a background overview, thorough coverage or an in-depth analysis for specific aspects of your topic?

6. Based on your answers to questions 1-5, do you still feel confident in using the source for your research needs? Why or why not?

Scholarly v. Popular Articles

How can I tell the difference?
Length Longer articles, providing
in-depth analysis of topics
Shorter articles, providing
broader overviews of topics
Authorship Author usually an expert or specialist in the field, name and credentials always provided Author usually a staff writer or a journalist, name and credentials may be provided
Language/Audience Written in the jargon of the field for scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students) Written in non-technical language
for anyone to understand
Format/Structure Articles usually more structured,
may include these sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography
Articles do not necessarily follow a specific format or structure
Special Features Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs Illustrations with glossy or color photographs, usually for advertising purposes
Editors Articles usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a board of experts in the field
Articles are not evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors on staff
Credits A bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always provided to document research thoroughly A bibliography (works cited) is usually not provided, although names of reports or references may be mentioned in the text
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