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Philosophy: Evaluating Information

Resources for the study of philosophy.

Databases vs. the Web

Just because something is available online, that doesn’t mean it is a website.  Online subscription databases like those from EBSCO are available because the library has paid to have online access to their materials, which is often more convenient for students and researchers.  The open web, however, is exactly the opposite. The information is freely available, but anyone can create and host a site without any regulation.  Be cautious when using the open web.

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate...

who has written this information? what credentials does this person/group have on this subject? Is your source credible? What is the reputation of the source or content author?

who is responsible for the Web site? what organization is hosting (and paying to keep alive) this page?

why does this site exist? why was it created? Who is the intended audience?

is the information accurate? can it be verified through another source? is the language objective and impartial or is it subjective and inflammatory? is the information or research documented? 

how thoroughly is the topic covered? is it written for college level research? is the information sufficiently complete for your purposes?

when was the information published or last updated? does the date matter to your research?

Tips for Reading Scholarly Articles

Image "Reading a Scholarly Article"  published by Brandeis Library (CC by NC-SA).

Scholarly Articles--a break down of parts

Open Web Resources

American Philosophical Society 
An eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, the American Philosophical Society promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach. 

Episteme Links
Includes over 19,000 categorized links to philosophy resources on the Internet.

The Partially Examined Life 
Tongue in cheek philosophy blog and podcasts that will make you smile and think. 

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
From its inception, the SEP was designed so that each entry is maintained and kept up to date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public.

Peer Reviewed Vs Popular

Click image to enlarge Credit: Syracuse University Library
Use this chart for a quick reference to determine if your article falls into the peer-review/scholarly or popular realm of publication

How to evaluate a scholarly article

To evaluate a journal article look for:

  • Purpose of Article: Why was the article written? To:
    • persuade the reader to do something?
      • For example: vote a certain way, purchase an item, attend an event
    • inform the reader?
      • For example: results of a study/experiment, what happened at an event
    • prove something?
      • For example: that a behavior is bad/good, a method works/doesn't work
  • Type of Journal: For college-level term papers, information should be obtained mostly from scholarly journals. Scholarly Journals contain articles describing high quality research that has been reviewed by experts in the field prior to publication. Trade magazines may be useful for topics in business or where economic data is needed. There are also good for learning what the current "hot topics" are in an area. Popular magazines, such as Time and Newsweek, should be used sparingly, or not at all
  • Organization and Content: Is the material organized and focused? Is the argument or presentation understandable? Is this original research, a review of previous research, or an informative piece?

  • Bias (of the publisher): Some publications have an inherent bias that will impact articles printed in them. Is the journal:
    • left/liberal?
    • right/conservative?
    • center?
    • an alternative press?
    • published by a political action (PAC) group?
  • Date of Article: Some topics, such as those in the health sciences, require current information. Other subjects, such as geology, value older material as well as current. Know the time needs of your topic and examine the timeliness of the article; is it:
    • up-to-date,
    • out-of-date, or
    • timeless?
  • Bibliography: Scholarly works always contain a bibliography of the resources that were consulted. The references in this list should be in sufficient quantity and be appropriate for the content. Look for:
    • if a bibliography exists,
    • if the bibliography is short or long,
    • if the bibliography is selective or comprehensive,
    • if the references are primary sources (ex. journal articles) or only secondary sources (ex. encyclopedias),
    • if the references are contemporary to the article or much older, and
    • if the citation style is clear and consistent.
  • Usefulness: Is the article relevant to the current research project? A well-researched, well-written, etc. article is not going to be helpful if it does not address the topic at hand. Ask, "is this article useful to me?" If it is a useful article, does it:
    • support an argument
    • refute an argument
    • give examples (survey results, primary research findings, case studies, incidents)
    • provide "wrong" information that can be challenged or disagreed with productively
  • Authority: Is the author an expert in this field? Where is the author employed? What else has he/she written? Has he/she won awards or honors?

  • Coverage: Does the article cover the topic comprehensively, partially, or is it an overview?

  • Audience: For what type of reader is the author writing? This ties in with the type of journal, as popular magazine are geared to the general reader, while trade magazines are for the specialist and scholarly journals are directed at researchers, scholars or experts in the field. Is the article for:
    • general readers,
    • students (high school, college, graduate),
    • specialists or professionals,
    • researchers or scholars?
  • Illustrations: Are charts, graphs, maps, photographs, etc. used to illustrate concepts? Are the illustrations relevant? Are they clear and professional-looking?

  • Context: Information is contextual. Who, what, when, where, why, and how will impact whether or not a resource is useful to you. If you are doing a survey of popular culture, for example, popular magazines would be a useful primary source.