How do I determine if a source is relevant?

Answered By: Jen Saulnier Lange
Last Updated: Aug 20, 2021     Views: 33

What type of source is it?

Pay attention to your results to see what type of source you’ve found. Search It, and most databases, will briefly show you what type of sources are in your search results, but you may need to do some extra evaluating by looking at the full-text or actual source.

Six Search It records with type highlighted: Print Book, Review, Dissertation, Article, Newspaper Article, and Patent

  1. What is it about? The first step in determining if a source is relevant to your topic is to read it. However, since you likely don’t have time to fully read every article and book in your results list, try implementing some of the reading strategies below.
    • Scholarly Articles Articles often follow a similar format so just by looking at the following sections, you can usually tell whether the source is relevant:
      • Abstract: Provides a quick summary of the article
      • Introduction: Lays out the plan for the article so you know which parts of the article are most relevant
      • Discussion/Conclusion: Discusses the big ideas and findings
    • Books Most scholarly books contain the following elements that help you tell whether they are relevant to your topic:
      • Synopsis: Usually found on the back cover or inside flap, provides a quick summary
      • Table of Contents: Scan to see which chapters may be relevant
      • Foreword: Typically first section of book, lays out book by chapters and themes
      • Book Reviews: Expert opinions on the book’s usefulness and audience
  2. How will you use the source within your paper?
    • After determining whether or not a source is relevant to your topic, you’ll want to consider how the source works within your paper. Consider the different points you want to make in your argument and make sure that your sources aren’t just relevant to one of your points.
    • For example: You are writing a paper about banning plastic bags and wanted to address climate change, landfills, and public policy within your paper. Some of your sources need to be relevant to your points about climate change and some of your sources need to be relevant to landfills or public policy. If all of your sources are about climate change, your argument will be unbalanced.

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