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Foundations - Library Resources: Identifying & Evaluating Online Resources

Identify & evaluate resources

Being able to identify resources is an important part of the research process. When you locate an article or a webpage that you would like to use in your research how do you know if it is peer reviewed? How do you know that it is trustworthy and accurate?

The information on this page will help you recognize parts of an article, learn to verify if an article is peer reviewed, and provide you strategies for evaluating resources.


A citation is similar to an address in that it provides all of the information a person would need to locate the document. Searching in the databases will provide you a list of results. Each result will contain all of the information that you need to create an APA formatted citation. Results may appear different in different databases, but they will always have all of the information you need to create your APA formatted citations.

Search result with citation information


When you select an article to view in the databases you will often see a link labeled Cite. When available, this link will provide you with a completed APA citation of the article you are viewing.

APA citation example


Even though this is a handy feature, be sure to double-check all of the citations for accuracy.  Sometimes the citations are not correct APA style as in the following example.

Incorrect APA citation


Note: For more information on retrieving full text visit the Searching & Retrieving section of this guide.


For more help with APA Style visit the Walden Writing Center.


An abstract is a detailed summary of the item you are viewing. Abstracts for research articles will include information about the study, and may mention the methodology used, the population studied, or the most important results of the study. Often, abstracts are included with search results to help researchers identify relevant articles without having to read the full text.

Note: Nearly all articles in the databases will contain abstracts. Within the databases the presence of an abstract does not necessarily indicate peer-reviewed status.


The following is an example of an abstract in one of the Walden Library databases.



The way that you access an abstract may be slightly different depending on the database. 

In some databases you can click the article title or hover your mouse over the image of a paper and magnifying glass.



In other databases you may see a link that says Abstract.





Peer-reviewed articles will contain an abstract within the article itself. When you view the PDF of the article you will often see a description of the article before the article introduction. It will often be labeled with Abstract but not always. In the articles below you can see an example of each.

Peer review

Peer review refers to the process of peers reviewing content. In the case of peer-reviewed journals, this means that when articles are submitted they are sent to professionals in the field (peers of the author) to review the article for things such as validity, significant contributions to the field, and originality. The peer review process can be very time consuming, sometimes taking a year from the time an article is submitted to when it is published.

While each article in a journal will be peer reviewed, it is the journal that is considered peer reviewed as it is the journal that makes the choice to use the peer review process or not. When you need to verify whether an article is peer reviewed, you will actually need to look for information that will tell you if the journal is peer reviewed. 

Verify peer review

In the Library databases you will often see options to tell the database that you only want peer-reviewed results. Most commonly you will see these options below the search boxes.



If you do not see an option to limit your search to only peer reviewed, it's possible that the database contains only peer-reviewed journals. For a complete listing of which databases contain all, partially, or no peer-reviewed journals, view the Limit to Peer Reviewed Articles link at the bottom of this box.


Limiting your search to only peer-reviewed journals in the databases is just step one to assuring that the articles you locate are from peer reviewed journals. On occasion, the databases may be incorrect. You can use Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to verify that the article you found is from a peer-reviewed journal.


1. Click on the More Resources button.

2. Click the Ulrich's: Verify Peer Review link in the menu.

3. Enter the journal title in the search box.

4. Look for an icon of a referee jersey by the title of the journal you searched for. This will indicate the journal is peer reviewed. (Peer reviewed, refereed, and scholarly are often used synonymously.)


Click search to see what the results for Music and Letters look like in Ulrich's.

Types of periodical publications

Periodicals are published at certain intervals. They may be published weekly, monthly, annually or quarterly. Periodicals can fall into three categories, Scholarly (peer reviewed)Trade, and Popular. Each type of periodical will serve certain functions and will be aimed at certain populations. The following information shows some of the main features and differences between these types of periodicals.


Authors Purpose
Scholarly - Experts, scholars, specialists           Scholarly - Report on research studies, advance knowledge
Trade - Professionals, staff writers Trade - Provide news and industry related information
Popular - Journalists Popular - Inform, entertain, current events 


Content Writing Style/Language
Scholarly - Research reports, methodology, theory Scholarly - Scholarly, technical, assumes a scholarly background 
Trade - Industry trends, products, association news  Trade - Industry jargon
Popular - News, opinions, general interest Popular - Informal, journalistic, conversational


See the Publication Comparison Chart for more information.

Evaluating Resources

Evaluating resources is an important part of the research process. Using unreliable or incorrect information will weaken your research. How do you know that the resource you are looking at is credible? There are several methods you can employ to evaluate a source. The evaluative process requires critical thinking and considering multiple viewpoints.

Regardless of the method you choose it is imperative that you read and think critically. 

Think CARP when evaluating: Credentials, Accuracy, Relevance, Purpose.

As you review the resources that you have found, you can ask yourself the following questions to help determine the credibility.

Credentials Accuracy
  • What information can you find about the author?
    • Is the author's educational institution or organization listed?
    • Is an email or physical address listed?
  • Do you notice any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors?
  • Has the author written anything else? Are other authors citing their work?
  • Does the information in the article seem to align with other information you know or have read about the topic?
  • Can you find information about the publisher or organization making the resource available?
  • Are there any statements made in the resource that you know are false?
  • Is the author citing other resources to support their statements?



Relevance Purpose
  • Does the information in the resource seem to meet the level you would expect for your degree level? Is it overly simplified or far too technical?
  • Can you tell what the purpose of the resource is?
    • Is it trying to sell something?
    • Is it trying to persuade you?
    • Is it trying to educate?
  • Does the resource help to add to your knowledge on the topic and contribute to answering your research question(s)?
  • Is the information current? What is the date of publication? If the information is older would it be considered foundational?
  • Does the resource seem to be primarily facts or primarily opinions?
  • If the resource is a website does it have a recent copyright or publication date? If there are links within the website are they all working?
  • Who is the intended audience? The general public? Other scholars?


Two other methods for evaluating resources are the CARS Checklist and the Three C's. You can view more information about each of these methods using the links below. The Academic Skills Center also provides guides that will prepare you with the knowledge and frame of mind to effectively evaluate resources.

Practice evaluating resources