ELP Online Lessons

These pages will help you learn how to use the libraries at VCU.

Evaluating Sources

New vocabulary words

Click on each vocabulary word below to see a picture of the word and hear it pronounced.

  • abstract - a brief summary of the content of a book, article, or other written work. Reading a source's abstract can help you decide whether it is relevant for your paper.
  • article - a source written by journalists or scholars that is published in a journal.
  • author - the writer of an article, book, or other written work. Looking an author's credentials (where they work and what degrees they have) can help you decide if the author is an expert on the topic they've written about and whether you can trust what they've written.
  • bibliography - a list of citations used in a book or article. Bibliographies appear at the end of the article or chapter. Also known as:  works cited, resources list, endnotes, references.
  • citation - the information needed to find a book, article, or other written work, such as the author, title, and publication date. Citing is the act of giving credit to a source. Examples:  MLA, APA, Chicago.
  • encyclopedia - a tertiary source which provides a short amount of general information about at topic. Encyclopedias may be general or subject-specific. Encyclopedias are an excellent place to start research for an assignment in order to familiarize yourself with a topic.
  • index - an alphabetical list of names, places, and subjects discussed in a book which includes the page numbers on which each is discussed. If a book has an index, this is a sign that the book is peer-reviewed or scholarly.
  • journal - a publication containing articles on a specialized topic, written by researchers, scholars, and other subject experts. The articles usually include abstracts and bibliographies and are usually peer-reviewed.
  • peer review - a process through which articles submitted to a journal are evaluated for quality by one or more subject experts in addition to the editor before being accepted for publication. University professors prefer students to use these when writing papers as these sources have the most reliable information. Also known as:  scholarly or refereed.
  • primary source - sources that provide first-hand knowledge about a subject or event. These sources are important when writing papers on historical events. Examples:  diaries, photographs, interviews, newspaper articles, scientific research data, and letters.
  • secondary source - sources that explain, analyze, or interpret primary sources. These sources are the main ones you'll use when writing college papers. Examples:  biographies, dissertations, journal articles, literary criticism.
  • table of contents - a list of parts contained within a book or journal issue (such as chapters or articles), which includes page numbers for each part and the sequence in which they appear. The table of contents can help you decide whether an individual part could be used as a source for your assignment.
  • tertiary source - a written work containing information which summarizes and collects information on a topic from primary and secondary sources. These are excellent places to start research for an assignment but should not be quoted or cited in your paper. Examples:  dictionaries and encyclopedias.  Also known as:  reference works.

Definitions modified from the ACRL Instruction Section's Multilingual Glossary for Today's Library Uses.