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UNI 104 - Advanced Strategies for Academic Success - Professor Grassie: Source Evaluation and Engagment



This page covers source evaluation and engagment.

Evaluating Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources


Use Primary Sources To Help You...

Use Secondary Sources To Help You...


Gain a contemporary understanding of a subject

Get background information about or a synopsis of a subject


Interpret information YOURSELF
(Note: some primary sources can be difficult to understand)

Get help from scholars who might be more specialized in a subject (Note: Be aware of possible source bias)


Write an essay that requires you to express
your original understanding of a subject

Write an essay that requires you to report on what
others have said about a subject (and perhaps defend YOUR informed opinion)

  • Most researchers will benefit from using a combination of primary and secondary sources
  • Some materials share features of BOTH primary and secondary sources
    -Ex. The Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville contains an original novel (primary sources) and scholarly essays about that novel (secondary sources)
  • Some materials could be considered primary OR secondary, depending upon the research focus
    -Ex. The article “After 9/11: Goal Disruption, Emotional Support, and Psychological Health in a Lower Exposure Sample,” by MacGeorge et al., a scholarly research study published in 2007
    -Secondary source for a history paper on the significance of 9/11)
    -Primary source for a medical paper on post-traumatic stress reactions to acts of terrorism

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources - What Is the Difference?


Popular Magazines

Scholarly Journal


General Public

Scholars, students, and professionals


Lots of color, advertising, illustrations, short articles

Mostly text, black & white, graphs & charts, long articles with bibliographies & footnotes


Feature articles on timely topics; written for a general audience in a language that is easy to understand

researched and footnoted articles; written for a specialized audience
in a vocabulary that is not easily understood by the average reader


written by staff & freelance writers; checked by editors

authored by researchers, academics, specialists; peer-reviewed


Time; Business Week; People

The Journal of American History; Signs


IF I APPLY Source Evaluation


Often we seek information that confirms our own thoughts and feelings towards a topic. This is NOT RESEARCH. Research and learning comes from finding sources that speak to the truth of a topic, no matter how much it hurts 

Only by keeping personal biases in check can you begin to vet information for credibility.

These steps will help you find sources that are credible and reliable in your research process.

Personal Steps


Identify emotions attached to the topic.


Find unbiased reference sources that will provide an overview of the topic.


Intellectual courage is needed to seek authoritative voices on the topic.

Source Steps


Authority established. Does the author have the education or expertise?


Purpose/Point of view. Does the author have an agenda beyond education or information?


Publisher? Does the publisher have an agenda?


List of sources. Is the evidence reliable, sensible, and accessible?


Year of publication. Does the date of publication affect the information?

Evaluating Sources