Taking the time to develop an overview of your paper topic will help you evaluate the content of the articles you find. Several different types of sources may be used to learn more--your textbook, your lecture notes, a general encyclopedia, or reliable websites, for example.
Many of us begin developing our overview by starting with Wikipedia, just as we might turn to a print encyclopedia. While the information may in Wikipedia may appear to be scholarly, it may not be accurate. The wiki format allows anyone to contribute to the content, scientists, elementary school children, and those who may have malicious intent. You might review the references and link to them instead.
The following four criteria are usually offered as a guide to evaluate sources:
These quality indicators may be used with any information source including journal articles and books as well as websites.
Peer review is a hallmark of scholarly journals. Before an article is published, it is critically reviewed by one or more subject experts. Recommendations for revisions are sent to the author for incorporation and then the article is published. Readers benefit since the article now includes the expertise of both the author and the scholar(s) who reviewed the content. This process also assures that the discipline's knowledge base is authoritative.
There are a few ways to determine if a journal is peer reviewed. You can check the "Instruction for Authors" in the journal's website. Authors will be alerted to the review process before they submit their article.
Some databases, such as Academic Search Complete, include a limiter for "Peer reviewed." In Medline and PubMed, all journals are peer reviewed so the limiter does not appear.