Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

PSY 323: Social Psychology

Evaluating information

On this tab and on the sub-tabs that unfold underneath it, you will find ideas on how best to critically evaluate information you encounter. These ideas will help you answer such questions as how credible are the sources I identified?  How scholarly or reliable are they?  How do I make that assessment?

What makes information peer-reviewed vs. scholarly vs. non-scholarly? Which type of source should I use?

Image of man thinking

There is a nuanced distinction between peer-review and scholarship, which typically doesn't matter when evaluating sources for possible citation in your own work.  Peer-review is a process through which editors of a journal have other experts in the field evaluate articles submitted to the journal for possible publication.  Different journals have different ways of defining an expert in the field.  Scholarly works, by contrast have an editorial process, but this process does not involve expert peer-reviewers.  Rather, one or more editors, who are themselves often highly decorated scholars in a field, evaluate submissions for possible publication.  This editorial process can be more economically driven than a peer-review process, with a greater emphasis on marketing and selling the published material, but as a general rule this distinction is trivial with regard to evaluating information for possible citation in your own work.

What is perhaps a more salient way of thinking about the peer-review / scholarship distinction is to recognize that while peer-reviewed information is typically highly authoritative, and is generally considered "good" information, the absence of a peer-review process doesn't automatically make information "bad."  More specifically, the only thing the absence of a peer-review process means is that information published in this manner is not peer-reviewed.  Nothing more.  Information that falls into this category is sometimes referred to as "non-scholarly" information -- but again, that doesn't mean this information is somehow necessarily problematic.

Where does that leave you in terms of deciding what type of information to use in producing your own work?  That is a highly individual decision that you must make.  The Which type of source should I use? tab in this box offers further guidance on answering this question, though it is important to be aware that many WSU instructors will only consider peer-reviewed sources to be acceptable in the coursework you turn in.  You can ask your instructor for his or her thoughts on the types of sources s/he will accept in student work.

Image: Martin Grater. (2017, Nov. 1). Deep Thought. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/152721954@N05/24304490568/. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Image of man thinking

Your topic and research question or thesis statement will guide you on which resources are best.  Sources can be defined as primary, secondary and tertiary levels away from an event or original idea. Researchers may want to start with tertiary or secondary source for background information. Learning more about a topic will help most researchers make better use of primary sources.

While articles from scholarly journals are often the most prominent of the sources you will consider incorporating into your coursework, they are not the only sources available to you.  Which sources are most appropriate to your research is a direct consequence of they type of research question you decide to address.  In other words, while most university-level papers will require you to reference scholarly sources, not all will.  A student in an English course writing a paper analyzing Bob Dylan's lyrics, for example, may find an interview with Dylan published in Rolling Stone magazine a useful source to cite alongside other scholarly works of literary criticism.

The WSU University Libraries' What Sources Should I Use? handout, as well as the other sub-tabs under the Evaluating information section of this guide (which is indeed the section you are currently viewing) offer further guidance on understanding and identifying scholarly resources, and comparing them against different criteria to evaluate if they will be of value to your research.  How many non-scholarly works (if any) you are at liberty to cite alongside scholarly ones is often a question to ask of your professor.  Some may not want you to cite any, whereas others may be ok with some non-scholarly works cited alongside scholarly ones.

Image: Brett Woods. (2006, Jan. 6). Deep Thoughts. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/brettanicus/87653641/. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Though it is not without criticism, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has crafted the following thought on evaluating the information you consume:

Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used.

An understanding of this concept enables... learners to critically examine all evidence—be it a short blog post or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding—and to ask relevant questions about origins, context, and suitability for the current information need.

"Information need" is library jargon for the question or questions you are trying to answer through your research.  Your questions are at the center of your research.  The processes of searching for, finding, accessing, and evaluating what you find all shift in response to how you define, construct, understand, or reframe your questions at any given time.  They are contextual.

This tab and its related subtabs help you understand how to best evaluate the information you find according to your information needs.  They offer ideas on particular points on which information may be often be evaluated, while seeking to remain flexible enough to not offer prescriptions that may cause you to accept or reject information as authoritative or valuable without considering it in the context of your own information needs.

Wichita State University Libraries, 1845 Fairmount, Wichita, KS 67260-0068 | Phone: (316) 978-3481 | Comments/Suggestions | Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube Channel Federal Depository Library Program HathiTrust Digital Library Patent and Trademark Resources Centers