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Macdonald DeWitt Library at SUNY Ulster

HUS205 - Child Welfare: How to Read Academic Sources

Identifying the Usefulness of a Source

Part of determining a source's relevance also includes evaluating its suitability for use in academic research. Not all sources are created equal. Take note of:

  • Publication date - is it current research? should it be? would more recent events have changed the conclusions of the work?
  • Publisher (book) or Journal (article) - scholarly, popular, self-published?
  • Author(s) credentials and experience related to the content
  • Tone
  • Signs of Bias
  • Intended audience 

Once you find a source that appears both relevant to your topic and appropriate for academic research, use the following tips for reading peer-reviewed articles and academic books to help you use your time efficiently.

Reading Peer-Reviewed Articles

Know your question or argument. Keep your question in mind as you read with the understanding that it may change as you gain more understanding and do more research.

Start with the Abstract (summary). The abstract will help you decide if you should go any further. If it doesn't seem to address your question or argument, stop reading.

Read the Conclusion/Discussion. The main claims of the author's work should be discussed at the end. If the conclusion is relevant, then move on to the Introduction.

Make your own summary. It is helpful to put in your own words why the article is relevant to your research question. It will help you organize your thoughts when moving to the next step of the research/writing process.

Review the references. It is important to see what types of sources the author consulted in their research. It can also lead you to other relevant sources to help you with your own research.

Reading Books & eBooks

Review the Table of Contents. Review the Introduction if there is one. Skip to the chapters that are most relevant to your research question/argument.

Look for summary information like a conclusion at the end of a chapter or the end of a book.

In ebooks, use the Search within option to find relevant passages (you need to open the ebook to find this option). In print books, use the index to find relevant pages.

Review the references at the end of each chapter or the end of the book to see what types of sources the author consulted in their research. It can also lead you to other relevant sources to help you with your own research.