How do you evaluate a research article or other source of information if you are not an expert on the topic? Consider the following elements.
- Type of information. Is what you're reading a book chapter or encyclopedia entry? Is it a popular or a scholarly research article? It's important to know what you are reading so that you can determine whether it is a good source for background information, or something you can feel confident citing in your own paper.
- Authorship. Scholarly journal articles will often have multiple authors. What are the affiliations of these authors? Are they authorities in the topic you are researching? Are they affiliated with any institutions or groups that suggest they might have a particular bias?
- Source. If a resource - a government report, for example - does not have named authors, consider closely the source of the publication. It should be easy to identify the publisher or agency responsible for producing the information. If you are not able to identify the source of the report, it is impossible to assess its value.
- Date of Publication. It is a good rule to look for more up to date information if the source you found is not very current. For books, you may be able to find a more recent edition of the text (certainly, if a new edition is available, the older edition is less valuable). For journal articles, try looking in a citation database like Scopus or Web of Science to see if any more recent articles have cited your older article. Or try searching for the authors and see what more recent work they have published.
You may also be able to find other scholars' evaluations of a particular research article by locating a similar study or literature review published later than the article you are interested in. You can use citation databases (like Scopus or Web of Science) to find articles that have cited your article and read what those authors had to say about the research study you are interested in.