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How to write a Literature Review: Evaluating sources

A guide to writing a literature review.

Useful Tips

Evaluating sources

Ask these questions about possible Internet and/or database sources:

  • Does the website's author list qualifications? Is the author an authority? Government and university websites are reputable.
  • Does the author cite sources? Are those sources referenced?
  • Does the website or article sound credible? Is the tone authoritative?
  • Is the article from a peer-reviewed source? This lends credibility.
  • Is the article timely? Was it written in the last 3-5 years? Depending on the field of research, earlier information may have been disproven or modified.
  • Is the information fair and objective?
  • Does the information validate or refute your understanding of the issue? Can the article be used as evidence in your document?
  • Does the author back up his or her arguments with sound evidence?
  • Is the website active? Check that the URL links still lead to live sites and/ or documents.
  • Was the information retrieved from Wikipedia? This is useful source for an informal search, but it is not a reputable source for formal research. Look up and study any reference material at the bottom of the Wiki page for possible use.

This guide will help you evaluate web resources.

The key features of a literature review

Literature reviews require you to critically evaluate the literature.

To ‘critically evaluate’ a source is to scrutinise it to determine its strengths and weaknesses. The following REVIEW criteria will help you to critically evaluate your sources:

R is for Relevance

Does the reference completely cover your topic, or only one aspect of it? Have you read widely to determine how relevant it is in relation to other sources?

E is for Expertise of author

What is the educational background of the author? What are their qualifications? Are they writing in their area of expertise? Are they regularly cited by other authors in the field?

V is for Viewpoint of author/organisation

Does the author have any personal or professional affiliations that may bias their work, in other words, do they have any conflicts of interest? Has the research been sponsored by an organisation with a vested interest in the topic? What is the purpose of the source – to inform, persuade or entertain?

I is for Intended audience

Is the reference aimed at the general public or a scholarly audience? Is it intended for professionals in the field or a community of researchers? Is it intended for a large or small readership?

E is for Evidence

Are opinions supported by scholarly evidence? Is a particular referencing style used properly and consistently? Has the reference been subjected to peer review?

W is for When published

Was the reference published recently? Have significant developments been made in the subject area since the reference was published?

Work SMART

Always evaluate the information you read. Be particularly careful when consulting Wikipedia and similar Internet sites as the authority and reliability of the content cannot be guaranteed. Remember to work SMART:

Source - is the source well-known, reliable, up to date?

Motivation - why does this website exist? Are they selling a product? Supporting a particular lobby?

Authority - is the author's name on the page? Is the author well-known in the field?

Review - has the information been reviewed or checked by others working in the field?

Two sources - is the information supported by other reliable sources?

The databases the Unisa Library subscribes to generally index articles that have been peer reviewed by experts in the field before being accepted for publication. These databases also allow you to limit your search to peer reviewed journals only.

Credits

Some of the the information on this page is indebted to the sources below:

Stapleton, P. & Helms-Park, R. 2006. Evaluating web sources in an EAP course: introducing a multi-trait instrument for feedback and assessmentEnglish for specific purposes. 25(4): 438 - 455.

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