You might be familiar with the Dewey Decimal Classification from grade school or the public library. At WUSTL, and at many academic libraries in the United States, we use an organization system developed by the Library of Congress. This system works to organize materials by subject.
For more information on this organization schema, please see the Library of Congress Classification Outline.
Here is a hypothetical shelf of books with the call numbers explained:
Authority: Who wrote the book? What are the author’s credentials? Who is the publisher? If the publisher is an academic press, this generally means a scholarly resource. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.
Tip: You can find this information on the title page of the book.
Audience: Who is the book written for? A specialized audience? Or a more general one? Is the focus appropriate for your topic?
Tip: You can sometimes locate this information in the preface of the book.
Accuracy: Does the information appear to be well-researched or is it unsupported? Is the book free of errors?
Tip: See if the author is footnoting information and providing a bibliography of sources consulted.
Objectivity: Does the book appear biased or is the authors viewpoint impartial? Is the author trying to influence the opinion of the reader?
Tip: Is the author’s viewpoint very different than others in the field? In that case you will want to examine the data and supporting evidence closely.
Currency: When was the book published? Is it current or out of date for your topic? In general, areas in the humanities don’t need up-to-the minute research while areas in the sciences do. Has the book been revised or is this a new edition?
Tip: This information is located on the back of the title page.
In many cases professors will require that students utilize articles from “peer-reviewed” journals. Sometimes the phrases “refereed journals” or “scholarly journals” are used to describe the same type of journals. But what are peer-reviewed (or refereed or scholarly) journal articles, and why do faculty require their use?
Three categories of information resources:
Not all information in a peer-reviewed journal is actually refereed, or reviewed. For example, editorials, letters to the editor, book reviews, and other types of information don’t count as articles, and may not be accepted by your professor.
How do you determine whether an article qualifies as being a peer-reviewed journal article?
First, you need to be able to identify which journals are peer-reviewed. There are generally four methods for doing this
4. Find the official web site on the internet, and check to see if it states that the journal is peer-reviewed. Be careful to use the official site (often located at the journal publisher’s web site), and, even then, information could potentially be “inaccurate.”
If you have used the previous four methods in trying to determine if an article is from a peer-reviewed journal and are still unsure, speak to your instructor.