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PEGN 430/530 -- Environmental Law & Sustainability: Evaluating Sources

Library resources for environmental law

How to Evaluate Sources

What kind of information do you need?  If you are writing for a class assignment, you may be required to use peer-reviewed ("refereed") or scholarly sources.  In any case, you should always look for sources that are authoritative.

Scholarly Checklist--Look for:

  • Authors listed, with credentials
  • Bibliography, references, or works cited and data (statistics, figures) to support conclusions
  • Reviewed by peers or experts in the subject
  • Published by a reputable publisher
  • Purpose is to impart knowledge, not to sell, persuade, entertain


Authoritative--A source can have authority even if it isn't scholarly.

  • Author and/or publisher is an expert on the subject
  • Author's affiliations and contact information are available
  • Publisher or sponsoring organization is reputable (e.g., for websites, look for the domain; .gov or .edu sites are more likely to contain unbiased information)
  • Cites scholarly or high-quality sources in references list/bibliography


Other Criteria-- these are not definitive, but worthy of consideration:

  • Do you see errors in spelling, grammar, data?
  • Is the publication in turn cited by other credible works published later?
  • How current is the information (no date? be suspicious)?

Evaluating Web Resources

The Web vs. Library Tools

Although you can find high-quality information through web search engines, using library tools such as the catalog and databases may help you find information sources more efficiently.

Web Search Engines Library Tools
Search the worldwide web; much is unpublished; quality of information varies from one page to the next Search published materials, selected for scholarliness and high quality
Usually no features for saving search results Researcher tools allow you to save search results, email, print, generate citations, etc.
May be difficult to narrow search results to hone in on what you want Features are available to narrow search results by topic, format, date, etc.
Web pages may be "here today, gone tomorrow," information on webpages may change overnight Published work has stability; publisher takes responsibility for any updates or error correction
Social networking (comments on articles, e.g.) allows you to get an idea of the state of current conversation about an issue Published materials tend to be more static
Good for reading news, current events Good for finding scholarly and authoritative works on a topic
Very current information can be found Publication process takes awhile; information is weeks or months old

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

How to Identify Scholarly Articles

Typical qualities of a scholarly journal article include:

The Basics

  • An abstract or summary begins the article

  • It contains citations or a bibliography

  • You can see the author's affiliation and credentials

  • The journal title often contains words such as journal, review, transactions and is subject or topic specific


Also Consider

  • Its written to inform and contains specialized language

  • Its written for other scholars in the subject

  • Scholarly journals tend to have few, if any images, but often contain charts, graphs, or data tables.

Peer Review in 3 Minutes

Need Practice?

Found an article, but you aren't sure if it's scholarly?

Compare it to the Anatomy of Scholarly article from NCSU Libraries