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Michigan State University

ISB 204 (Bierema): Applications of Biomedical Sciences: Evaluating Sources

Is my source open access or restricted?

Ways to find out if your source is open access or restricted through a paywall or subscription:

1. Use the main library search from

  • Click on "See More" on the Articles box after your initial search.
  • Look for theOpen Accesssymbol next to the article information.

2. Checking a journal title through the library:

3. Using Google:

  • If you're using Google or Google Scholar, you may only be able to see the abstract (summary) of the article and not the full text. This indicates that the article is behind a paywall or subscription only.
  • Google the title of the journal to find its home page or website. Information should be available as to the subscription cost, or whether the journal is open access.
  • Search for the name of the journal or article in the Directory of Open Access Journals:
  • When looking at the article, see if you can find a message with wording like: "Access provided by Michigan State University." This indicates that MSU pays for access to the article.

Questions for Evaluating Sources

Consider the following questions when evaluating a source:

Questions about the author(s):

  • Who is (are) the author(s)? What information can you find about them from looking at this piece? (e.g. their credentials, what do they do for a living, history of publishing, etc.?)

  • What do you think the author(s) were trying to accomplish by writing and publishing this article?  What was their possible purpose?

Questions about the article or piece of information:

  • What do you think motivated the author(s) to write this article? Why do you think they find the topic worth writing about? Is the original research question or purpose of the study indicated?

  • What are the claims or conclusions presented in the article? What do they lead you to believe? Are the claims supported in some way - if so, how? What is used for evidence?

  • How does the language used in the headlines or the article itself contribute to the overall tone of the information presented?

  • Is there anything in the article that lends authority or credibility to its content? If so, what?

Questions about the source's publication:

  • In what type of publication does the story appear? (Is it found on a news website, in a scientific journal, magazine, etc.)

  • Do you think that this publication has an interest in providing a certain perspective on this study? Why or why not? How can you tell?

  • Can you think of anything that might be missing from this information source- a perspective, a consideration, or any other information?

Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources

Primary sources are the direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research project. As such, a primary source can be almost anything, depending on the subject and purpose of your research. Be creative in thinking of possible relevant primary sources of information on your topic.

Why Use Primary Sources?

  • A primary source is as close as you can get to the event, person, phenomenon, or other subject of your research.
  • A primary source on its own is likely only a snippet or snapshot of the full picture; thus it is often difficult to interpret on its own.
  • Reference sources and secondary analyses give you a framework for interpreting primary sources.
  • The real work of research is examining primary sources to test the interpretations, analyses, and views you find in reference and secondary sources.
  • Use primary sources to find evidence that challenges these interpretations, or evidence in favor of one scholar's interpretation over that of another; then posit an interpretation of your own, and look for more primary sources for evidence to confirm or refute your thesis.
  • When you present your conclusions, you will have produced another secondary source to aid others in their research.

Types of Primary Sources:

  • Lab reports: experiments, observations, etc.
  • Historical documents: official papers, maps, treaties, etc.
  • First –person accounts: diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews, speeches, etc.
  • Recordings: audio, video, photographic, etc.
  • Artifacts: manufactured items such as clothing, furniture, tools, buildings
  • Newspapers: some types of articles
  • Government publications: statistics, court reports, etc.
  • Internet resources: see, especially, digitized versions of historical documents
  • Manuscript collections: collected writings, notes, letters, and other unpublished works
  • Books: extensive and detailed discussions of a particular topic or set of topics, written by the scholars and researchers who came up with the ideas or discovered the findings

What does peer-reviewed mean?

Peer-reviewed articles, often called scholarly or refereed, are articles that are critiqued by reviewers prior to publication. The reviewers are often anonymous, and their expertise comes from being scholars or experts in the field that the article/journal is published in. Reviewers are asked to judge the quality of the article by addressing the validity of the research, whether or not the methods chosen address the question(s) asked, and the accuracy of the data. If an article does not meet standards set by the journal it is usually sent back for revisions or is rejected for publication.

Some common characteristics of peer-reviewed articles are:

  • Publication in a journal published by a scholarly society, professional association, or academic press.
  • Based on original research or offer a critical analysis of research performed by experts or scholars in the field.
  • Charts, diagrams, and/or tables showing data or results of experiments are included.
  • A list of references or sources is provided at the end.
  • Language used often contains specialized vocabulary and uses terms or concepts specific to a particular discipline or field of study.
  • Often highly structured and contains an abstract, introduction with literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

An article that meets one or more of the above criteria is likely to be peer-reviewed, however non-peer-reviewed resources may also have some of these traits. 

Popular, Scholarly, or Trade?

Learn the difference between three major types of articles. Get tips for using each type.

Direct link to "Popular, Scholarly, or Trade?" on MSU Mediaspace

Video credit: Emilia Marcyk

Crash Course: Navigating Digital Information

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