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Evaluating Information: Types of Information

Resources for evaluating information to determine its reliability

Scholarly Versus Popular Sources

A scholarly or peer-reviewed (also called refereed) article is written by scholars in the field and is highly reputable. Before this type of article is published, it is reviewed by other experts in the field. The reviewers evaluate the content and make suggestions on how to improve it; the author then incorporates their feedback into the article.

This does not mean that information that is not peer-reviewed is not worthwhile. Many publications that are not technically scholarly (i.e. ArtForum or The New York Times) are still highly valuable and contain credible information. Also keep in mind that many primary sources (interviews, etc.) are published in popular publications. See the "Evaluating Information" tab for help deciding if a site is reliable.

Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

Primary sources can range from an original creative work, to survey data, to an interview with an artist or designer. Depending on the discipline, what is considered a primary source may change. See the table below for more guidance (click to enlarge).

table columns: Definition, Characteristics, Examples. table contents: Primary sources: (definition): original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched; (characteristics): first hand observations, contemporary accounts of the event, viewpoint of the time; (examples): interviews, news footage, data sets, original research, speeches, diaries, letters, creative works, photographs. Secondary sources: (definition): works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon, generally uses primary sources; (characteristics): interpretation of information, usually written well after an event, offers reviews or critiques; (examples): research studies, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks. Tertiary sources: (definition): sources that identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources; (characteristics): reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources; (examples): encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, manuals, textbooks, fact books.

Table from Loyola Marymount University's William H. Hannon Library

Popular Publications


Often very current because the research and publishing process is not drawn out

Often easily accessible in terms of cost

Easy to read and understand


May lack extensive notes or sources (or may not have any)

Quality is less definitively high

Written to a less-informed audience

More informal than scholarly or trade publications

Examples Time, National Geographic, Newsweek

Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Publications


Evaluated by other experts in the field (peer-reviewed)

Extensively researched with notes and cited references

Written by scholars in the field


Research and publishing processes can take awhile so may not cover current events

Can be very dense, long, and/or technical

Examples African Art, Art Bulletin, International Journal of Design, Animation Journal, Textile Forum

Trade Publications


Written to a specialized audience (assumes a basic understanding of the field)

Often very current because research and publishing process is not drawn out

Often written by a professional in the field or someone with subject expertise


Not peer-reviewed

Likely uses specialized language

More informal than a scholarly article

Examples ArtForum, Psychology Today, Plastic and Rubber News



Focused on current events so information is very up-to-date

Generally follow journalistic standards for content

Written by staff and journalists

Easy to understand


Usually informal tone

Written to a less-informed, general audience

Quality is less definitively high

Examples The New York TimesDetroit Free PressDetroit News
College for Creative Studies website