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Guide to Information Seeking: Evaluating information

Evaluating information resources

The critical evaluation of source materials and identification and use of different types of sources plays an important role in studies and research. 
When you use publications as source materials, consider the following: 

  • What is the type of the publication - an article, a dissertation, an opinion piece or something else?
  • Is it a scholarly publication or a popular publication? If it is a scholarly publication, has it been peer-reviewed?
  • Is the publication independent and unbiased, or does it have any commercial connections?
  • What is the date of the publication? Is the information current considering your field of study?
  • Is the author an expert of the topic? What are his/her affiliations?
  • Is the publication an original research (primary source) vs. a news article that informs on an original research, or discusses or comments on it (secondary source)? 
  • Has the author referred to sources and provided citations properly? Are sources of good quantity and quality?

It is important to distinguish between a scholarly and a popular publication, especially when you are writing e.g. a report, an essay or a thesis, and must evaluate whether your sources are suitable.

Popular publications are, for example, magazines, newspapers and trade journals. They are intended for the public, or professionals. Magazine and newspaper articles are mainly written by journalists, instead of experts of a particular field.

Scholarly articles (in a journal, peer-reviewed journal, scholarly journal) are based on scientific research. A scholarly article has distinctive features:

  • the quality of a scholarly article is guaranteed by peer-review
  • a scholarly article follows the IMRD format. Following parts can be found in the article: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion.
  • scholarly articles are written by experts in the field and academics from well-known organizations, research organizations and educational institutions, such as universities
  • a scholarly article includes in-text references, citations, and a bibliography

A peer review or a referee process is an essential part of academic publishing. Before an article is published in a peer reviewed journal, it has been read and reviewed by experts in the relevant field. For example, phrasing of a question, research methods used and interpretation of the results are assessed in the peer review process. It also ensures that the text structure meets the requirements of scholarly writing. Reviewers recommend whether the article is ready to be published or not, and reviewers may suggest improvements to the text before the article can be published.

Peer review is thought to guarantee the quality of an article. You can refine your search in many databases so that the search result includes only peer reviewed articles. The used terms are e.g. scholarly, peer reviewed, research article, review article

When using article search in Finna, narrow the search by clicking the box Peer reviewed:

Primary sources or original sources provide new information and give direct evidence on a topic. Primary sources include for example research articles and dissertations, where authors report their own research and its findings.

Secondary sources or second-hand sources discuss primary sources. Secondary sources comment on a research, evaluate, summarize or compare them, or draw conclusions from them. Secondary sources include for example news articles on a research, literature reviews, meta-analyses and textbooks.

Use primary sources whenever possible. Secondary sources include analysis and interpretation, and the contents of the primary source may become distorted. This does mean secondary sources are automatically unusable, but you should consider their usability along with other criteria. You may use for example a literature review published in a scholarly journal, where they draw together a number of research findings to summarize current knowledge on a topic. You can also use an article where the author summarizes the findings in his or hers dissertation. In contrast, you cannot use a newspaper article on a new research finding, but should seek out the original research.

See video about the difference between primary and secondary sources and ways to tell them apart:

Digital information literacy

The rapid development of the digital online environment has changed the way we search, analyse, use, and share information. Digital information literacy is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, create, and disseminate information safely and appropriately through digital technologies. Digital information literacy highlights the importance of critical thinking and the ability to make informed assessments of all the information we find and use.

Types of information disorder
Identifying misinformation and disinformation is part of digital information literacy. To help us understand different dimensions of false content online, Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan created a framework of information disorder. It makes a distinction between different types of content based on their intended purposes.

Reference: Digital Information Literacy Guide, p. 40


Reasons to spread false information

The amount of misinformation has increased in recent years. Reasons to spread false information are often ideological or political. Influencing through information is communication that aims to systematically influence public opinion, people's behaviour and decision-making, and thus society's ability to function. Reasons can also be commercial e.g., the intentional filtering of news to attract audiences or using clickbait to get as much visibility, likes, and shares.

Misinformation is believed because we tend to believe things that strengthen our existing world view. This tendency is called confirmation bias. At the same time, we reject things that challenge our preconceptions.

Combating of misinformation

Misinformation can be combated by learning the tools of fact check and the skills of source criticism.
Fact-checkers use the lateral reading approach in which the reader verifies the background of the online information (reliability of the source, facts, stats, sources) from different sites and sources before starting to read the text at hand.

How to spot misinformation:
•    Make sure there's more than one source.
•    Consider whether someone benefits financially, politically, or through followers and clicks.
•    Do I cause unnecessary panic or confusion if I share the information?



About this guide

This guide aims to support Turku UAS students and staff in searching information. It is a major part of the study material in the Information Skills Online Course.

Do you need help?

Contact Library at the Turku University of Applied Sciences by email

We are happy to help you!

Usage rights of the guide

Creative Commons -lisenssi
This publication has been licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license