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Research 101

The steps of the research process & how to apply them.

3a. Evaluate Scholarly Sources

Read Research Critically

Learning to evaluate peer-reviewed research is a lifelong process and often a technical subject. Nonetheless, the advice listed here will help you begin your development as a critical reader.

Identifying Academic Sources

Figure 1
How to Identify Academic Sources

Note. From How to Identify Academic Sources, by D. Reade, , YouTube ( Copyright by Dan Reade.

Evaluating Peer-Reviewed Articles

Critically analyzing peer-reviewed research is not something we can fully describe here.

However, we’ve taken a handful of tips from Pyrczak ():

  1. If a theory is named in the introduction to a research article, the theory should be adequately described (Pyrczak, , p. 36).

    If it is not, you may need to hunt for further information on the article’s theoretical framework in order to understand and evaluate it.

  2. Researchers should avoid making statements that sound like facts without referring to their source (Pyrczak, , p. 40).

    Do not take statements of fact at face value unless they are supported.

  3. Researchers should use wording that helps readers understand whether the cited literature presents opinions or research results (Pyrczak, , p. 49).

    Always be on the lookout for loaded language, opinions presented as fact, or unsupported statements that may indicate authorial bias.

  4. Is the number of participants so low that there is little hope of making sound generalizations? (Pyrczak, , p. 64).

    Although a discussion of statistics and a thorough evaluation of adequate sampling is beyond the scope of this research guide, any article that attempts to draw general conclusions from a sample must have a sample of adequate size and meet other parameters. Speak to your professor for more details.

  5. For a pilot study or developmental test of a theory, has the researcher used a sample with relevant demographics? (Pyrczak, , p. 71).

    If a researcher is not drawing general conclusions about a population but is using quantitative analysis for other means, the sample should still be relevant to the subject in question.

  6. When reporting percentages, it is important for researchers to also report the underlying number of cases for each percentage (Pyrczak, , p. 103).

    In a good research article, you should always be able to tell exactly what was sampled, how, and why.

For a new student or beginning researcher, the most important thing to remember is to use multiple sources. If you have information on one topic from a variety of places, you are more likely to get a rounded view of the subject.

About Preprints

Preprint archival platforms publish scholarly research before it has been peer reviewed.

Preprints have been common for many years in highly specialized branches of physics due to their lengthy peer-review process (Johnson & Chiarelli, ). More recently, preprints have become popular in biology as well, though they remain controversial (Enago Academy, ).

Interviewees reported that their main concern when it comes to reading and reusing preprints is the fact that they haven't been peer-reviewed. This means that, potentially, incorrect findings could be shared broadly or reported on by the media. However, there is also an expectation that researchers and journalists will behave ethically and professionally, which should minimize the risk of the above.

Some Well-Known Preprint Services

Preprints are not peer reviewed. They may undergo substantial revision before final publication, or they may never see publication at all.