Finding articles today is usually not that difficult, with the wealth of article databases the library subscribes to. The challenge is to find the best articles that meet your specific needs within your search results!
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you are sifting through your search results, looking for gems of information.
Currency - How recent is the information?
How important this criterion is depends on your topic. Your instructor may set limits on the date range you may use for your sources.
Type of Article - What kind of article is it? What category does it fit in?
While there are lots of different categories used to divide up types of information (books, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs, wikis, etc.), the two that are the most important for articles are scholarly and not scholarly.
Articles published in newspapers and magazines are not scholarly. Rather than listing all the characteristics of non-scholarly articles, it is easier to identify those that are scholarly.
To identify a source as scholarly, it must have:
Scholarly articles are usually quite lengthy – 5 to 30 pages. If it’s only a page long or less, it’s very doubtful that it is scholarly.
Scholarly articles are research-based, offering either:
Audience - Who is it aimed at: scholars or researchers, the general public, or a specific profession (doctors, lawyers, teachers)?
With the traditional forms of information, magazine and newspaper articles are aimed at the general public. Scholarly journal articles are aimed at academics or researchers in that particular field. Magazines or newspapers that are aimed at people in a particular profession are called “trade journals” or “trade magazines”. The articles may appear to be scholarly, but rarely are they research-based with extensive bibliographies.
Authority - Who wrote it or who is responsible for it? Why should I care what they think?
For scholarly information, it will say who wrote it, and usually their academic rank (assistant professor, researcher, etc.) and where they were employed at the time the article was written. If the article is from a peer-reviewed journal, then other researchers have critiqued the article and found it to be worthy of publication.
For non-scholarly information, it’s more important who is responsible for it rather than the individual author. What is the reputation of the magazine or newspaper that published the information?
Comprehensiveness - How complete and balanced is the information?
Some sources will be relevant and useful, but do not give the reader a complete picture of the issue and ramifications, such as an editorial that is slanted to a particular perspective. The more comprehensive sources will be especially useful at the beginning of your research, when you are still absorbing as much as possible about your issue.
For magazine and newspaper articles, look at the length. Longer articles will have more context and background information than shorter ones.
As a rule, American newspaper articles offer fairly balanced viewpoints. (At least that is the goal, as long as it isn't an editorial.) Note whose voices are you hearing in the article, in the form of who the journalist interviewed. Newspapers from other countries and some magazines may have political agendas.
But just because a source is not balanced does not mean it would not be useful. It just means you need to find sources with other viewpoints as well.
Trustworthiness - Is the information sound? How does it compare with other sources?
This is the most important criterion to judge your source. But it is the one that takes the most time, because you have to know enough about your issue to judge the soundness.