Using Sources

What Sources Should I Use?

Knowing what sources you should or can use is half the battle. The key is to find sources that are credible, well-researched, and vetted. Peer-reviewed or scholarly articles are ideal for academic writing because they are all of these things; however, sometimes an assignment calls for non-scholarly sources, e.g., newspaper articles, data sets, organizational websites, interviews, etc.

When deciding whether to use a source (scholarly or not), consider the following:
  • Year of publication (Currency)
  • Relevancy to your topic (Relevance)
  • Author or publisher’s credibility/expertise (Authority)
  • What evidence or support it uses (Accuracy)
  • Why it was written (Purpose)
  • Who it was written for (Audience)

What Is a Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Source?

When an article is peer-reviewed (also called “academic” or “scholarly”), that means it has been read and scrutinized by a board of scholars or subject-experts before being published. Your instructors will want you to use peer-reviewed sources because, unlike what you’ll get with a Google search or in a popular source, peer-reviewed materials are always well-sourced and vetted. Peer-reviewed articles can be found in scholarly/academic journals, which you can access through the Library’s website.

Video showing the peer-review process (NC State University):

How Do I Find Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Sources?

Finding peer-reviewed materials is easy when you are a Bellevue College student. You just need to do a library resource search to look for them. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Library’s resource search bar:
  2. Type your search term(s) into the search bar. For example, “healthcare” (as seen below).screen shot of bellevue college library catalogue search bar
  3. Then, when the results come in, click “Peer-reviewed Journals” under “Show Only” (as seen below). This will make sure that only peer-reviewed articles show up in your search. Typically, documents published in academic/scholarly journals are peer-reviewed, but you should use this tool to be sure.

screen shot of bellevue college library database search with peer-reviewed option highlighted

What is a Popular Source?

Unlike scholarly sources, popular sources are written for the general public and are usually meant to entertain or inform. If a publication isn’t scholarly or peer-reviewed, then it is most likely popular. Popular sources should be used with a higher level scrutiny and caution because their authors and content are not vetted as thoroughly as scholarly publications. That being sad, many popular sources, such as newspapers and magazines, employ field specialists and editorial boards.

Use discretion, common sense, and your instructors/librarians/writing support staff to help you decide which popular sources are acceptable and which are not. Sometimes popular sources act as jumping off points for more credible sources. For example, Wikipedia should not be referenced because its entries can be openly edited, but you can find credible articles in the reference section of certain Wikipedia entries.

The difference between scholarly and popular sources (Bellevue College Library)

Reading Scholarly Articles

When trying to find the right source, you’ll have to quickly look through a number of articles until you find the one(s) that works best for you. To do this, start by reading the abstract (or article summary) and the discussion/conclusion. That way, you can gather a sense of what is going to be talked about, what sorts of conclusions it will make, and if it would be worthwhile to read in its entirety.

How to read a scholarly article (Western University)

Last Updated October 2, 2017