How to Evaluate Research Articles

Everything that you find online is not equal when it comes to the quality of research articles.
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Not every supposed research article is actually authoritative. Whether you're reading up on your favorite subject, writing an inquiry paper or compiling a resource list for your thesis, evaluating the credibility of the source and the information provided is essential. Before you cite an article, take some time to review who wrote it, when it was written, how the author -- or authors -- conducted the research and where the actual study was published. Doing so will help you to judge whether you can use the article as a reference in your own paper.

Research the author or authors. Just because someone has a Ph.D. after his name doesn't make him an authority. Look for the researcher's bio and review his credentials. It's possible that he got his degree from an unaccredited institution, or he could be writing about a topic that has little to do with his background. For example, an author with a doctorate in child development would not have any real qualifications to write a research report on biochemistry.

Look at the publisher information. An article published on a personal blog or self-publishing site is not likely to be of the same quality as one published in a scholarly journal. Government agencies, universities and established organizations or associations are also typically sources with authority.

Review the methodology that the researcher is using. The article should include the procedure, sample, sample selection and data-gathering tools. If the author doesn't include this content, leaves out steps or doesn't explain how the validity is established, there is reason to question the credibility of the resource.

Read the results of the research. The article should clearly state the findings and include a thorough discussion of what the results mean and what the implications of the research are. A well-structured research article also includes previous studies in the discussion section.

Find the journal's impact factor score. This is the top way that academics rank scientific journals, according to Springer, an international publisher that specializes in science, technology and medicine. However, impact factor scores are calculated for journals in a wide range of fields. The educational publisher Thomas Reuters provides yearly impact scores that evaluate a journal's importance and authority in comparison to other journals within the same genre. The score is based on a mathematical formula that includes the number of times a journal is cited by other researchers. Thomas Reuters calculates the score for the current year by dividing the total number of citations received for articles published in the preceding two years by the total number of articles published in the journal during those two years.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.