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Evaluating Information

Introduction to the types of resources available for research, their purposes, and the value of those resources in research.

Introduction

This guide is designed to help you:

  • Examine the qualities of three common types of periodicals: popular, trade, and scholarly magazines and journals
  • Evaluate sources such as popular, trade, or scholarly publications using at least two criteria
  • Discuss the roles that each type play in academic research

Let's begin by looking at the differences between the three most common types of periodicals. Understanding the features of each can help you determine the scope and perspective that best match your research needs.

Popular Literature: Magazines and Periodicals

Popular literature

Purpose: Entertain, persuade, inform
Audience:  Written for a general audience or for special interest communities/targeted demographics. Often found in stores and appear among the top hits in web searches. Written in accessible, commonly used language.
Standards:  Content is reviewed to ensure topics are of interest to specific demographic(s), but not necessarily reviewed by experts.
Transparency:  Sources of information usually unknown, or at least not cited.
Accountability:  Author is often anonymous or credentials are unclear.
Publication model: 

Generate profit for publishers and associated/affiliated markets. Usually contain copious, generalized advertising.

Example

Let's look an article from Parents magazine entitled, "The Healthiest Fast-Food Kids' Meals May Surprise You." Using the criteria in this section, we can see that this article is intended for a popular audience. 

Purpose:  The primary purpose of this article is to inform readers of the healthier choices that can be made at fast food restaurants. There is perhaps a secondary purpose: to provide emotional encouragement to parents. 
Audience:  Parents of young children
Standards:  The content in the article appears to be a summary of an article written in a different popular publication, with some additional commentary. 
Transparency:  The article refers to another article as its source. That other article cites its research as: "Hours spent seeking nested calorie counts on fast food websites and tallying nutritional information."
Accountability:  The author is blogger and a parent. The author offers no evidence of expertise on the topic
Publication Model:  The webpage has many advertisements, customized to the readers' search history. There are multiple links to products and social media outlets, generating traffic and advertising revenue. Parents magazine is part of the Meredith Corporation's family of brands, which also includes People, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Shape, and InStyle.

Trade journals

Purpose: Provide current information and interest articles for practitioners within an industry or profession.
Audience:  Written by practitioners within specific industries or professions, for their peers. Writing may include specialized language associated with industry or profession.
Standards:  May include reporting on research in the industry or profession, but doesn’t contain rigorous original research or peer evaluation.
Transparency:  Information is sometimes cited.
Accountability:  Author names are often included.
Publication model:  Further the goals of the associated trade or profession. Access is sometimes carefully controlled to protect valuable or confidential information. Advertising is targeted to appropriate trade practitioners or professionals.

Example

Let's look at a report from the National Restaurant Association about annual food trends: "What's Hot 2020."
Purpose:  Inform business planning and decision making in the food industry about the top food trends in consumer interest for the year ahead.
Audience:  Restaurants and other service providers in the restaurant industry. 
Standards:  The report is based on results from over 600 chefs (the report says 602 and their press release says approximately 650) who work for the restaurants that are members of the association. The chefs selected items from a list of 133 menu items, defined by a food industry market research firm, that they feel are most desired by consumers.
Transparency:  It appears that the report is based entirely on the survey results.
Accountability:  No authors are listed in the report. A person with communications responsibilities is listed as the contact for comments and questions. 
Publication Model:  The report directly supports the interests of the member organizations. There is no advertising in the report or in this associations' web site.

Scholarly/peer-reviewed journals

Purpose: Advance scholarship through the creation of new knowledge
Audience:  Written by scholars for scholars and students. Journals are highly specialized, with content and language reflecting the deep analytical scholarship within a field of study
Standards:  Articles are “peer reviewed,” i.e., published only after rigorous evaluation by experts in the appropriate specialization to meet the journal’s scholarly standards.
Transparency:  Author names are always included, along with contact information. Authors are engaged in lively scholarly conversation with fellow experts.
Accountability:  Information is heavily cited—you know where the authors got their information.
Publication model:  Usually by subscription, though access is becoming increasingly open. Because the goal is to advance scholarship, there are few if any advertisements.

Example

Here is an example of what a scholarly article on the topic of marketing healthy food looks like. It is a journal article entitled, "McHealthy: How Marketing Incentives Influence Healthy Food Choices," published in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Chan, E. K., Kwortnik, R., & Wansink, B. (2017). McHealthy: How Marketing Incentives Influence Healthy Food Choices. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly 58(1), 6–22.

Purpose:  Examination of the impact of marketing on food choices. The journal is produced by The Hotel School in the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University with the aim to provide the latest research in hospitality management. 
Audience:  Researchers who study related topics. The authors reference possible interest from the food industry and policy makers. 
Standards:  Articles published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly have been peer-reviewed. The authors affirm that they have no potential conflicts of interest and have not received financial support related to this research.
Transparency:  The three authors and their affiliations are listed at the top of the paper. 
Accountability:  The article references previous research, particularly at the start of the article when the authors report on other research on this topic that supports the work they are doing. Detailed research findings are reported in the article and are the basis for the conclusions drawn. 
Publication Model:  While the journal is managed by Cornell University, it is published and distributed by Sage Journals, which charges subscribers, such as libraries, for access to the content. The link on this page is to the openly available Cornell repository for faculty research. 

Further Reading

Learning Objectives

This guide was designed to help you:

  • Examine the qualities of popular, trade, and scholarly magazines and journals
  • Evaluate sources such as popular, trade, or scholarly publications using at least two criteria
  • Discuss the roles that each type play in academic research

 

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