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CLAS/ES 311: Environmental History (2019): What's a Good Source?

A guide to research for students in Professor Salowey's class, by Librarians Maryke Barber and Rebecca Seipp

Checking Your Sources

Quick checklist:

  1. Who wrote this?
  2. Who published this?
  3. When did they publish it?
  4. What's in it for them? (bias)
  5. Can I verify it? (accuracy)
  6. Does it work for me? (appropriateness)

Each of the boxes on this page will tell you how to apply a question to your research.

1. Who wrote this?

Who is/are the authors? Are they qualified to write on this topic? Are they associated with any institution that makes them more or less credible on this topic?

DO THIS: Do a quick search for an author's bio or cv (= academic resume). You can also check to see whether the author has written any other papers or books on the same topic.

Make sure websites provide you with the name of the actual author (not just the webmaster).

Can't tell who the author is? You should never use information that you can't verify in an academic paper.

2. Who published this?

DO THIS: find a description of the publisher of your book or article, or find their website. What types of things do they publish, and who is their audience?

OK to use: art history book by Yale University Press.
Why? University publishers produce academic-quality books that have been written by experts in the field, and have been fact-checked before they are published

Questionable: book on Susan B. Anthony by Scholastic Publishing.
Why? Scholastic is actually a publisher that produces books for K-12 schools. The information in the book will be accurate, but for a college paper you can find a book that's more at your level.

Questionable: book on the Civil War published by Author House.
Why? Author House is a website that helps people self-publish: anyone can write a book and publish via Author House. No fact-checking, no guarantee of subject expertise.


  • .com = business
  • .org = organization
  • .gov = government agency
  • .edu = school
  • .edu/~morgan = Mr. Morgan's personal page at Unnamed University.

3. When did they publish it?

DO THIS: find a date.Consider

  1. whether there may be more recent information on your topic, and
  2. whether it is important to your paper that you use the most recent information.
  • On web pages, find the date the material was originally written, and when the page was last updated.
  • Journal article in a database: make sure you know when the article was originally written (don't confuse that with the date it was added to the database)

What is Peer Review?

Peer reviewed articles (also sometimes called refereed articles) require that experts in the field must first examine the article before it is accepted for publication. This ensures that the research is sound, current, and of high quality.

Be careful: even if a journal is peer reviewed, that does not mean all articles in it are! Some article types, such as editorials, letters, and book reviews, may not be peer reviewed even if the other articles in the journal have been reviewed.

Tips for finding peer reviewed journals:

1.    Look the title up in the Ulrich's Periodicals Directory: look for the black and white shirt ("Refereed") icon.

2.    Select the Peer Reviewed limiting option (available in most databases).

3.   Ask a librarian for help in determining whether journals and articles are peer reviewed: email us at, or ask for help at the library's front desk.

4. What's in it for them?

DO THIS:  use information about the author and publisher to determine whether they may have a bias about your topic.

If they do, you will have to make this clear in your paper when you use any information from their writing. Consider:

  • Is the information fact, or opinion?
  • What is the purpose? What do the authors want to accomplish?
  • Is there an implicit or explicit bias?

5. Can I verify it?


1. check for sources. Do the authors use citations, do they provide references and/or a bibliography?

2. check a few facts from the information against a reliable encyclopedia. Good encyclopedias are Credo Reference, Oxford Reference Online, or the encyclopedias found in the library's first-floor reference section.

6. Does it work for me?

DO THIS: go back and read your assignment. Answer the following questions:

  1. Is this information really relevant to the assingment and to my topic?
  2. Is this information written at the appropriate age/knowledge level?
  3. Is this information complete, or do I have to find something else to fill in gaps?

Popular vs. Scholarly: Which is it?

Your assignment may require you to use scholarly, or peer-reviewed, journal articles for your bibliography. What are these articles, and what makes them different from articles from magazines like Time?



Scholarly journal

Trade/professional pub

Popular magazine


Plain cover/plain paper; black/white graphics and illustrations

Cover may depict industry setting; glossy; color

Eye-catching cover; glossy; pics and illustrations in color


Long articles, providing in-depth analysis of topics. Style: research projects, methodology, and theory.

Shorter articles, often providing broad trends. Style: Industry trends, products or techniques, organizational news

Shorter articles, often providing broad trends. Style: personalities, news, opinions, general interest

Authors Usually an expert in the field: name and credentials are provided.
Usually a journalist, staff writer or editor: name is only sometimes provided. Usually a journalist, staff writer or editor: name is only sometimes provided.


Academic or professional; professors, researchers, students

Members of specific business, industry, or organization

General public

Peer reviewed?*






Maybe – sometimes have short bibliographies



Few or none

Moderate – most will be trade-related






Writing style

Specialized vocabulary or jargon; may require training or subject expertise to understand

Specialized vocabulary or jargon; may require training or subject expertise to understand

Vocabulary that can be understood by general public


Communication Research

Journal of Communication

Journalism History

Advertising Age

Columbia Journalism Review

Editor & Publisher


Sports Illustrated

Vanity Fair




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Ask The Librarian

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Rebecca Seipp
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MSIS, Information Science
The University of Texas at Austin
BA, History
Southwestern University