Online Learning for Students: Evaluating Resources

A research guide to help faculty and students find, access, and navigate online materials available through the library
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Evaluating Articles

Use critical thinking skills when deciding whether an article is appropriate to use.

Consider the following:

    • Check the Date: Is the information current or timely for your topic?
    • Read the Abstract: This usually provides a summary of the article.
    • Scan the Headings & Subheadings: These will provide an outline of the work.
    • Read the Conclusion: The last few paragraphs in a journal or magazine article often restate the main argument, important questions and major findings.

    • Purpose: Is the intent to inform, entertain, persuade or educate?
    • Author: Does the author have expertise on the topic?
    • Objectivity: Are various sides or points-of-view represented? 
    • Bibliography: Are the author's sources of information cited completely?


Criteria list taken in whole from:
Howard, Rebecca Moore. Writing Matters: A Handbook for Writing & Research. Customized for Marquette University. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. Print.

Evaluating Web Sites

The Web has little quality control and critical evaluation of internet sites is crucial. Some criteria to use when examining a Web site are:


  • Is the document author or site sponsor clearly identified?
  • Does the site provide contact information for the author or sponsor?

Objectivity or clear disclosure of advocacy

  • Is the site's purpose clear (for example, to inform, entertain or persuade)
  • Is the site explicit about declaring its point of view?
  • Does the site indicate whether it is directed toward a specific audience?


  • Are the topics covered by the site clear?
  • Does the site exhibit a suitable depth and comprehensiveness for its purpose?
  • Is sufficient evidence provides to support the ideas and options presented?


  • Are the sources of information stated?
  • Do the facts appear to be accurate?
  • Can you verify this information by comparing this source with other sources in the field?


  • Are the dates included in the website?
  • Is the information current, or at least still relevant for the site's purpose? For you purpose?


Criteria list taken in whole from:
Ramage, Bean and Johnson. The Allyn and Becon Guide to Writing. 5th Ed. Customized for Marquette University. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Print.

Why Background Information?

Background information is the foundation upon which you build good research.

Reading background information allows you to quickly learn more about a subject and help you make informed decisions about how to approach your research and select reliable sources.

Background reading will help you:

  • Identify key concepts, names, events, authors, terms, etc. associated with your topic.
  • Determine whether your topic is too narrow or too broad.
  • Figure out if there is consensus or controversy surrounding your topic.
  • Understand the historical context and relationships to other topics.
  • Find potential articles & books in bibliographies.

Why Use Articles?

 Articles appear in publications called magazines, journals, periodicals, and newspapers.

Use articles to find:

  • The most recent research on a topic
  • Coverage of very narrow (or specific) topics
  • Coverage of current events
  • Contemporary accounts of past events and research

Why Use Books?

Books are useful for:

  • in depth information,
  • historical context,
  • overview, synthesis and analysis.

Often a chapter or two are all that is needed. The process of writing, editing and publishing means even the most recently published book may not contain the most current information on a topic.

There are many eBooks available for students to access from home. 

Types of Articles


Periodicals, journals, magazines fall into 'categories' determined by their overall purpose.

  • Popular:
    Written for general public; authors and editors usually not experts in subject field; purpose is to provide current, societal/cultural news and discussion.
  • News Article:
    Written or produced for general public; authors are usually journalists familiar with the local area and/or the topic. The purpose is to provide very current information on "what, where, why and how"; format may be online news sites or newspapers, radio or TV.
  • Trade:
    Written for individuals in a specific career/job or with a specific interest/hobby.  Authors are generally persons working in the field/hobby or journalists with specialized knowledge.  Articles discuss current issues but are not reports of research.
  • Scholarly:
    Written for, and authored by, researchers, educators, students. Articles are reports of original research or other scholarly discussions. The publication title often may include words such as:  journal, review, or quarterly.