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Research hints and tips for the Psychology Program

Identifying Credible, Appropriate Resources

During the research process, you will uncover articles from a variety of periodicals, as well as other resources such as books, web sites, and government documents. You will want to use credible sources from scholarly journals if you are writing a research paper, but other sources may also be appropriate.


Scholarly Articles

Articles that have been identified by the indexing database as scholarly, peer-reviewed, or refereed, have a very high possibility of being credible, since they have been reviewed for quality by other scholars as part of the publication process. If you have a peer-reviewed, scholarly article in your hands then you will most likely be looking at 1) How current it is, especially if you are looking for the latest research on a topic, 2) The authority of the author(s), e.g., a scholar from a well-known research university with a number of publications addressing a topic has established some level of authority about it, 3) How relevant the article is to your research topic. Note that an article doesn't have to be perfectly matched to your topic, but it does need to relate in some significant way, e.g.,, if you are writing your paper on the effects of malnutrition on creativity in children then an article studying the effect of diet on energy levels in children might be relevant.


Magazine and Newspaper Articles

Different types of magazines serve different purposes, and may be relevant to your paper for history, background, context, and the like. When considering magazines and newspapers, you will still want to consider currency, relevance, and authority, but you should also consider whether the information is accurate and unbiased, as well as the purpose of the publication or article. That may require some legwork on you part. For example, if the author is identified as a member of a "think tank" on social issues, you should research the entity online and attempt to identify its mission, purpose, and to discover any evidence of bias.


Government Information

The three branches of the federal government, including governmental agencies, as well as state, county, and cities, produce information that is widely considered reputable. In particular, reports by government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services, continue to be held in high regard. It is best to keep in mind that certain government websites, such as home pages of elected officials, may exhibit partisan biases that require a more critical review of the information presented.


Websites and Online Information

When finding information online, whether it is on a social media platform or an individual or corporate website, it is vital that you critically evaluation the content before using it in a research paper (or sharing it with your friends, for that matter). In addition to evaluating it for currency, relevancy, authority, accuracy, and purpose, it is a good idea to apply the following process, created by Mike Caulfield and more fully articulated at: SIFT (The Four Moves).

  • Stop: Be present and think about the content being presented, the nature of the site, any implicit or explicit bias, etc.
  • Investigate: What do you know about the author or the sponsor of the information? Dig deeper.
  • Find: If you read information that appears true or otherwise interests you, but the site is questionable, find coverage of the same topic on a more authoritative or reputable site.
  • Trace: Claims, quotes, and partial statements should be traced back to their source. An inflammatory sound bite by a political figure or a statistic that seems too good (or bad) to be true may have been taken out of context.

Types of Periodicals: Journals, Magazines, Newspapers

The chart below, created by the Milner Library at Illinois State University, highlights the difference between types of periodicals and the articles within them.

  Scholarly Journals Trade Publications General Interest Magazines Newspapers Popular Magazines Sensational Magazines
Purpose To show and discuss original research and experimentation. Gives practical information to working professionals; showcases leaders/trends. Provides topic-specific information to a general, educated audience. Provides current news & special topics e.g. travel, book reviews Provides information to a general audience, may be topic specific, e.g. sports. Carries little authority; intends to shock readers.
Why Use Them? Often required for course project and research. Lends credibility to your own ideas and hypotheses. Useful for doing an analysis of a particular industry, applying for a job, or preparing for an interview. Good for identifying potential topics for a research project as well as identifying current or hot issues. Good for identifying potential topics and getting a snapshot of issues at time articles were published. Good for identifying current cultural norms, trends, and events at the time articles were published. Only useful if research project is related to this form of publishing and writing.
Authors Written by and for scholars or researchers in a specific discipline. Specialists or practitioners in a particular field or industry. The magazine's staff, a field expert, or a freelance writer/journalist. Staff reporters and columnists. Staff columnists. Staff writers.
Sources/ Citations Always cited as footnotes, endnotes, or reference lists (bibliographies). Sources are mentioned within an article but rarely formally cited. Sources are mentioned within an article and occasionally cited formally. If used, sources are mentioned in an article but not formally cited. If used, sources are mentioned in an article but not formally cited. Rarely any mention of specific sources.
Language Uses discipline-specific terminology, jargon, & language. Uses jargon specific to to a particular field or industry. Uses formal language and some discipline-specific jargon. Uses general, everyday language. Uses general, everyday language. Inflammatory, sensational style yet very simple language.
Review Process Go through a strict review process by peers. Minimal review by editorial staff and rarely by peers. Minimal review by editorial staff. Reviewed by editorial staff. Minimal review by editorial staff. Minimal review, if any.
Audience Reader is assumed to have a similar scholarly background. Written for practicing professionals. For a broad, educated readership. For a broad audience. For a broad audience. For a broad audience.
Graphics Contains graphs, charts, and photographs specific to the research but seldom graphic art. Illustrations are charts, graphs, and photographs relevant to the article; some graphic art. Photographs, illustrations, and graphs are used to enhance the overall publication. Some images when relevant to a story. Photographs and images are used heavily. Photographs and images are used heavily, though often altered.
Publishers Most often published by a professional organization or specialty publishing company. Often published by professional organizations relevant to a particular field or industry. Generally published by commercial enterprises for profit. Published by commercial enterprises for profit. Published by commercial enterprises for profit. Published by commercial enterprises for profit.
Advertising Typically none or small amounts of selective advertising. Advertising is relevant to the profession or industry. Advertising appeals to a broad readership. Advertising appeals to a broad readership. Significant amounts and appeals to a broad audience. Advertising often reflects the style of the publication.
Examples Behavioral Neuroscience, Journal of Economics American Grocer, Aviation Week Psychology Today, Scientific American Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Vogue, Sports Illustrated National Enquirer, Star

Instruction and Student Engagement Department, Milner Library, Illinois State University
Creative Commons License This table is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.