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BIOL 180L: Principles of Biology Lab (Elzay/Lazerus)

This guide will help students enrolled in Principles of Biology Lab taught by Nora Lazerus and Dr. Elzay

Types of Sources

In order to be successful you will need to know how to identify a peer-reviewed or "scholarly" source. These videos can help you learn the difference between the different types of sources, can help you identify the differences between primary and secondary research, and introduce you to the different types of data. This page also provides information on important questions to ask as you determine the quality of the sources you find.

Scholarly Sources FAQ

Q: Are master's theses and doctoral dissertations considered scholarly sources?

A: Yes. They are peer-reviewed by committees of experts and are an example of peer-reviewed scholarly work.

Q: Are trade publications considered a scholarly source?

A: No. While they may be selected by their editors for their quality content, and many contain reliable information, they are not generally considered a scholarly source. They are not usually peer-reviewed and the purpose of their publication is to inform an industry, not to further the scholarly conversation.

Q: Are government reports considered a scholarly source?

A: No. Government reports contain valuable and useful information but they are individual piece of information gathered to help policy-makers make a decision and are not peer-reviewed scholarship produced to further the study of a specific field. While government reports can form a piece of your reference list, you would need other scholarly articles to support the information.

What is BEAM?

There are many methods for critically considering information resources. One is Joseph Bizup's BEAM model.

The BEAM method is especially helpful when deciding how to use a resource.

B: Background Background information is general information or factual evidence used to provide context

E: Exhibit Exhibit or Evidence are materials you can analyze or interpret

A: Argument Argument information comes from critical views from other scholars and experts. You can engage with these claims to become part of the scholarly conversation. You can refute, refine, extend, build upon, or affirm them.

M: Method Method information refers to the methods or theories used by the author to analyze and interpret the evidence. You can use these to adopt a concept, a work process, or a manner of thinking. 

Learn more on our guide to Evaluating Information with BEAM

When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's

  • Who? Who wrote this? Can you even tell? Are they an authority in this topic? Credentials are important, but first-hand accounts are also important. Most importantly, who stands to benefit if you believe this source?
  • What? What kind of resource is this? Is it an advertisement? Newspaper article? Scholarly research article? Also, what kind of information does it present? Does the content match up with what you already know about this topic? Are there a bunch of advertisements, either related or unrelated to the topic of the article?
  • When? How up to date is the information? And how soon after the event was this published? (We've all seen false reports and misinformation happen shortly after major events like school shootings.) Also, how up to date do you need the information to be? Looking for reviews of classic movies that came out shortly after the cinematic debut versus critical acclaim that came years later can make a big difference.
  • Where? Country of origin?  How different is the information provided by CNN versus BBC versus Al-Jazeera? Also, where is this information in relation to the structure of the website? Is it on the front page? Is it buried?
  • Why? What's the purpose of the source? Is it trying to sell you something? Convince you of something? Also, why are you looking at this source? Entertainment? Medical research? Academic need?

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining that this is one you will use?
  • Is this source appropriate for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

By scoring each category on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = worst, 10=best possible) you can give each site a grade on a 50 point scale for how high quality it is!

45 - 50 Excellent | 40 - 44 Good | 35 - 39 Average | 30 - 34 Borderline Acceptable | Below 30 - Unacceptable

Avoid Fake News

Evaluating Data Quality

What is a predatory journal?

Predatory journals are money-making scams that do not contribute to the scholarly conversation. They take advantage of authors by charging fees to publish, and they do not follow best practices for peer review. 

Common Characteristics of Predatory Journals

  • The scope of interest includes non-biomedical subjects alongside biomedical topics
  • The website contains spelling and grammar errors
  • Images are distorted/fuzzy, intended to look like something they are not, or which are unauthorized
  • The homepage language targets authors
  • Description of the manuscript handling process is lacking
  • Rapid publication is promised
  • There is no retraction policy
  • The contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliate (e.g., or

Adapted from: Shameer, L., Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R., Clark, J. Galipeau, J., Roberts, J., & Shea, B.J. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-section comparison. BMC Medicine, 15(28). 10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

Additional Resources