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Source Evaluation: Journal Articles

In the University of Detroit Mercy Libraries there are multiple ways to locate periodical articles on your topic. These include:

  • Articles in electronic databases
  • Citations/Abstracts in electronic databases
  • Print indexes, in the case of older materials


However you go about locating an article on a topic, it is important to take time to evaluate the source of the information. Some questions you should ask are:

  • Does the date of the article indicate that the material is too old to be useful?
  • Is the article from a scholarly journal or a magazine? Use the following hints to differentiate between magazines and journals. (See the Glossary for a definition of periodical and serial.)


As you advance in your major area of study, professors demand a higher quality of research and students are expected to explore a topic in scholarly journals. The information which follows will help you determine whether the information is written for a general audience or expert writing to expert.  You can identify each type of publication with the following criteria: 

Scholarly Journals:

  • Author(s): all articles are signed, most with accompanying brief bios that may include degree(s) held and place of employment.
  • Abstract: most articles have a brief summary of the article preceding the complete text of the article.
  • Scientific Method: scholarly research begins with an introduction, explains methodology used, gives results, and draws a conclusion.
  • Text: wording is often esoteric and specific to the vocabulary of the discipline. Graphs, charts, and mathematical equations are important to the article.
  • Pagination: articles are often lengthy, 10 or more pages.
  • Bibliography: if an article is a result of research, it will always have a bibliography, as research builds upon previous research.
  • Journal itself: rarely has any advertisements, may have information on submitting a paper, information on conventions or seminars, and is often published by a professional society or association.

Magazines:

  • Author(s): often articles have no named author(s) or, if there is a byline, there is no brief bio on the author.
  • Text: articles tend to have simple wording, accompanying pictures, and often contain the personal opinion of the author.
  • Pagination: articles tend to be brief; less than 4 pages.
  • Bibliography: bibliography is not provided as documentation of article's content.
  • Magazine itself: a magazine has lots of advertising, the pages may be glossy.

Trade Journals:

Another type of magazine is the trade journal.

  • Author: specific author usually not provided but association is cited.
  • Text: articles tend to be technical in nature, written to keep specialists informed of new products and processes or may describe recent national and foreign patents.
  • Bibliography: bibliography is not provided as documentation of articles' content.
  • Magazine itself: often free or inexpensive with heavy advertising, and often includes news tidbits on personalities in the field.


View the journal or magazine source of an article critically. THINK about the who, what, when, and how of the information. This will help you make good choices in selecting information.

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