Find Credible Sources or References

Cite Reliable Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly Articles in Papers

When writing an academic paper or a piece that requires scholarly citations, use these tips to figure out if a source is appropriate.

Knowing which publications are reliable and which may not be can help in writing a paper or article that needs to have references from trustworthy sources. By searching for some telltale signs of credibility, it is easy to pick out the good from the bad.

Websites as Academic References

penIn general, unless a paper is specifically focused around public opinion or popular culture, it is not recommended to include blogs, public commentary, unreferenced articles, or general information from “.com” sites.

The most reliable sources for appropriate information on the internet will come from “.gov” or “.edu” sites, or sites specifically devoted to scholarly writing such as websites of scientific journals, well-known encyclopedias, and archival sites that include referenced newspaper articles or official publications.

If the research paper involves explaining official positions on political, ethical, or special interest group issues, websites of organizations that end in “.org” or “.net” can be very helpful, but should not necessarily be represented as unbiased sources.

Many websites with “.org” exist to promote a particular viewpoint or to advertise a cause and should be cited as such.

What is a Scholarly Source?

The surest way to determine whether an article can be considered scholarly is to determine where it was published. The most credible types of publications are peer-reviewed journals, official government publications (including census information), and books from peer-reviewed or reputable publishing companies (think Oxford, Harvard, or Yale University presses).

If it is unclear from the title of the journal or the name of the publisher whether it is peer-reviewed, try checking the website of the company in the informational section. This should include background on the editorial review process and publication standards.

An excellent place to start the search for scholarly sources is on Google Scholar, which primarily returns sources from peer-reviewed journals. One handy feature of this service is that it also displays information on the number of times the paper has been cited and how recent the publication is. Both may be useful in determining the relevancy or quality of the source.

Borderline References for Academic Papers

Depending on the preferences of the professor or the details of the writing assignment, sources may be considered unreliable if they are older than five or ten years (though this may vary by field – scientific information should generally be as recent as possible).

In addition, some teachers will not accept general newspaper articles, unless the assignment is on current events or media coverage of the topic. The same goes for magazine articles, though in some specialty magazines the feature articles are often well referenced and written by experts in the field. When in doubt, however, ask the professor for clarification or approval.

Final Tips for Citations

The best way to gather lots of reputable sources for citation is to review the references in the scholarly articles that the search has already identified.

Look up the references that seem most relevant to the topic and take note of names that appear more than once, as this may indicate that the scholar is a leading source for other researchers.

Review each paper thoroughly before citing it to make sure that any information attributed to it is actually contained in the source. If possible, avoid citing sources that do not have references or a named author. Identifying reputable sources becomes easier with practice, so start the search early.