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Appropriate Sources for Research Projects

Whom should you trust?

Your instructor will often require you to use "credible," "reliable," "academic," "scholarly," or "peer-reviewed" sources for your projects. Here are some clues to help you evaluate the trustworthiness of a resource.

For popular sources, such as newspapers, magazines, non-academic books, and some websites you might try the SMART Check method. It involves answering critical questions about your source, including:

  • Source: Who or what is the source?
  • Motive: Why do they say what they do?
  • Authority: Who wrote the story?
  • Review: Is there anything included that jumps out as potentially untrue?
  • Two-Source Test: How does it compare to another source?

 

EXAMPLE: A book about how to get a good night's sleep might seem credible if it is authored by a medical doctor. But if you discover that the author also sells books about how to get rich and how to find love, you might question the author's motive. 

 

If you cannot determine if a source is trustworthy, keep looking, or get help from a librarian. 

Peer-Reviewed Journals

While information from popular sources can be credible, sources from university presses, academic associations, and some reputable commercial publishers are considered some of the most reliable types of academic sources. An example might be a book published by Oxford University Press or an article from the Journal of American Association of Nurse Practitioners.  In the sciences, peer-reviewed journals are often considered the most valuable type of information, in part because journal articles include information that makes them easier to evaluate! 

Here's more on the peer-review process for journal articles from NC State University Libraries.

(This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license, by North Carolina State University Libraries.)

On the next page we'll look at ways to find keywords that will help you find the sources you need for your research paper.