Evaluate Information from Articles
"Periodicals" is a general term used to refer to newspapers, magazines and journals (publications that are published "periodically".) When you use periodical articles in your research, you should evaluate the article by asking questions similar to those you asked when evaluating web pages. The first question to ask is: Who is responsible for the article? This is sometimes referred to as evaluating the authority of the article. When asking about the authority of an article, you should look for information about two things:
- the publication in which the article was published
- the author(s) who wrote the article.
Types of Periodicals
The first question to ask about a periodical is: What type of periodical is it? The distinction between magazines and journals is not always very precise, but it is important to understand the general differences between these types of publications. Popular magazines (such as Time, Newsweek or Sports Illustrated) include those found on most newsstands, usually with flashy covers intended to entice a reader and commonly printed on glossy paper with many illustrations and photographs. Magazines are usually written by journalists for a fairly general audience so they are usually easier to read than journals, but the information they provide tends to be less detailed or authoritative. Articles in popular magazines usually report events, the author's opinion or simplified versions of the findings of others. Footnotes and bibliographies are rarely included in popular magazine articles. Browsing through popular magazines can sometimes be a useful method of finding an interesting topic for a research project. Articles in popular magazines usually provide some general overview information on current events, issues and trends.
Scholarly journals tend to be the most common sources of bibliographic research for serious researchers. These journals are usually oriented to students and professionals in a particular discipline and may be more difficult to understand for those who do not have some familiarity with the general field being discussed. Subject coverage tends to be more specialized and articles usually reflect the most recent research and important issues being discussed in a particular academic area. Scholarly journal articles usually review previous literature and report original research and almost always include extensive footnotes and bibliographies. Scholarly journal articles are often preceded by an abstract-- a brief summary of the article. Many scholarly journals are "refereed" or "peer reviewed" ("refereed" or "peer reviewed" are both synonymous). Articles submitted for publication to a refereed or peer reviewed journal are reviewed by an editorial board made up of scholars or authorities in the field to determine whether they are of high enough academic quality to be published. Many periodical databases (including the InfoTrac OneFile database) include an option to limit searches to refereed or peer reviewed journals. If you find an article in a search in a periodical database, you can check to see if the periodical in which the article was published is refereed by limiting the search to refereed journals. If the article is included in the results list after limiting the search to refereed journals, then it is a refereed journal.
To find research studies, look for articles in scholarly journals that include the following sections:
- Method(s): may include "Procedure", "Participants", "Measures"
- Data (usually included in statistical tables at the end of the article)
Subject Magazines, Professional Journals, and Trade Journals
Between popular magazines and scholarly journals are subject magazines (such as Scientific American or Smithsonian), professional journals (such as Anthropology Today or American Psychologist) and trade journals (such as Automotive News or PC Week). These types of publications sometimes look similar to popular magazines but they typically report on developments in a particular subject area, profession, trade or industry and are oriented to those who are either in the field or who have a particular interest in the subject matter. They differ from scholarly journals in that their articles do not usually include original research and, although they are often written by subject experts, the writing tends to be less complex and technical.
It is important to understand the use of each type of periodical in the research process. Each type of literature has a function and value in research. Popular articles often make a good point of entry for research. They can provide a basic introduction to a topic, an overview that may suggest possible approaches to the subject, divergent points of view, and perhaps some color. The college-level researcher will go on to collect scholarly articles that offer more focused, in-depth, original, research-based information. Subject or professional magazines may serve both sets of functions and are particularly useful for research in scientific and technical areas in which the scholarly materials may be too specialized for undergraduates. They offer the authority of experts without the complexity of original research accounts.
Finding Information about Periodicals
What if you want to know more about a periodical, such as its political perspective and the type of articles it publishes?
Information about a periodical can often be found from the publication's website (if they have a website). From the publication's home page, look for any description or hints about the publication's perspectives or affiliations. Look for links such as "About Us" or "About this publication", or "Publisher's Information".
To find a publication's website, you can often simply use a Web search engine (e.g. Google); type in the full title (with quotation marks around it) and the publication's website should come up near the top of the result list. In some cases, it may be more difficult to find the website for certain periodicals. This may be the case if the publication has a common name, if the publication's website is contained within a broader website--such as that of a publisher or an affiliated organization, or for various other reasons.
Information about a periodical can also often be found on Wikipedia. Articles on Wikipedia often provide more objective information and background about the perspectives of the publication and the editor(s) than publication websites. Information on Wikipedia is not always completely reliable since anyone can edit Wikipedia articles and there are no identifiable authors for these articles. (Learn how to use Wikipedia effectively.)