The ability to assess the reliability of a source is a critical academic skill. On this page you will discover some ideas and approaches to assessing the usability and reliability of sources for your academic writing. Please be aware that these are general guidelines. The difference between usable and unusable sources is not a black-and-white choice, it is rather more like a continuum. For example, there may be situations where a respected business magazine like The Economist may be a better source than an academic journal, especially if your paper discusses very recent events. If in doubt, consult with your instructor.
A note on Wikipedia: Wikipedia is a great source of information, but is not normally considered a reliable source for academic writing. This is due to several reasons including its lack of peer review, and the ability of anybody to freely edit its content. So, while Wikipedia may be a great place to start your reading and get ideas for the direction of your research, you should avoid referring to it in your paper.
adapted from Meriam Library, California State University, Chico
|Clues to look at||Scholarly||Trade||Popular|
|Authors||Academics or experts in the field, with credentials and affiliations clearly listed||Practitioners or educators in the field||Paid journalists|
|Language||Technical or scholarly, often requires knowledge of discipline and jargon to fully understand||Has industry jargon, assumes a background in the field||Easy to read|
|Look||Usually black and white, sometimes charts or drawings but little colour or pictures||Glossy paper, with colourful pictures and industry-related advertisements||Glossy, colourful, full of pictures and advertisements|
|Abstracts (very short summary of the article)||Generally present||Generally absent||Absent|
|Reference List||Bibliographies or footnotes always present, and generally substantial||Short bibliographies may be present||Absent|
|Intended audience||Academics||Other practitioners in the field||General public|
|Article Length||Long articles, often split into sections like abstract, introduction, methods, discussion||Varies||Shorter articles|