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Evaluating Sources: Help with Reading & Understanding Your Sources

Evaluating information resources for students at the UW Bothell & Cascadia College.

Critical reading strategies for scholarly sources

Scholarly sources are "peer-reviewed" essays and articles that use new research findings and theoretical tools to contribute to ongoing conversations within and across various disciplines.

As you read (and reread) your scholarly sources, try to answer the following questions.

1.  What problem/question is the author posing?

  • Who else seems to be engaged in the conversation about this problem/question? (Be specific.)
  • How does that problem/question relate to and/or differ from the problem you're posing in your research project? (Remember that a problem is not a thesis or conclusion. Those come later.)

2.  What kind of knowledge, methods, and archives does the author use in order to address that problem/question?

  • Are there other kinds of knowledge, methods, and archives that you think might be helpful, but that the author does not draw on? 

3. What is the author's argument?

  • How do you assess it? (Are you persuaded by/satisfied with the author's argument?)
  • How is that argument shaped by the evidence and methods the author uses (and doesn't use)?

4. How might other scholars assess this article?

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General academic reading strategies

Use the following questions to help guide your reading of what are sometimes complicated arguments; even when the argument seems straightforward, these questions can help to get at the different nuances in the language and rhetorical style.  This in an important step in helping to clarify just what the argument is about, what position the author takes, how this position engages in a larger debate, and why this position and the debate in general are significant.  Equally important is the attention you give to your own position on the topic.  As you respond to these questions, think about what kinds of assumptions you bring to the argument and what kinds of questions you are left with.  Your response to the argument should be guided as much by your understanding of its content and structure, as by your own engagement with the issues and problems it raises in relation to your own understanding of the topic.

1.   What question is posed by the author?

2.  Thesis/position/argument

  • What is the primary argument made by the author?
  • Where do you first find the argument?
  • What language indicates to you that this is the primary argument?

3.  Context

  • Why is the argument significant?
  • What other positions does the author indicate are debated regarding the topic?
  • When was the article written?  Where was it published?  Who was the intended audience?

4.  Evidence

  • What evidence does the author offer in support of the position put forth?  (Identify all pieces of evidence you find.)
  • What is the nature of each supporting evidence?  For example, is it based on empirical research, ethical consideration, common knowledge, anecdote?
  • How convincing is the evidence?  For example, does the research design adequately address the question posed (#1 above)?  Are the ethical considerations adequately explored and assessed?  Have you read/heard anything on this subject that confirms or challenges the evidence?

 5.  Counter arguments

  • What arguments made in opposition to the author’s views were described?
  • Were these arguments persuasively refuted?
  • What evidence was used in the refutation?

6.  Effectiveness

  • What were the strengths of the article?
  • Was it difficult to read and understand?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  • Were you able to follow the moves of the article from thesis to evidence, for example?
  • Did the structure of sentences and paragraphs and the overall organization guide you and help you follow the author’s intent?
  • Did all the material seem relevant to the points made?

Critical Readings Questions were created by Becky Reed, former Director of the UW Bothell Writing Center

Understanding Information Structure

Illustration of the "hourglass" structure of information (general at top and bottom, getting more specific in the middle).

Screenshot taken from "How to Read a Book 5.0" PDF by Paul N. Edwards.

A good reading strategy is to imagine your book or article as an hourglass, with general information at the beginning and end, and increasingly detailed and specific information nearer the middle. You can start by reading the introduction and the conclusion, to get the big picture, and then work your way toward the middle to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.