Finding and evaluating resources

Where to find resources

Finding publications on the open web 

More and more, governments, scholars, corporations, non-profits, and others are making their publications freely accessible on the open web, including scholarly articles, reports, and primary source materials.

So depending on your topic you may be able to do at least some of your academic research with a basic search engine, in addition to accessing scholarly resources through the Library's electronic journal and database subscriptions.

Because it's easy for anyone to publish anything online, it's more important than ever to know how to evaluate the reliability and credibility of what you read and view. 

And when a basic search can return millions of results, it's helpful to know some advanced search techniques to help you find the right resources -- and filter out what you don't need. 

Finding books, journal articles, background information, and more at the Library

Looking for Library materials? Start with  Library Search to look for Library materials, including tips and guides created by librarians -- or dive into Library research tutorials and guides for self-paced tutorials, search strategies, and more. 

The Library Catalogue search guide will help you get started finding books, journal articles, and more available in the Library's collections and via subscription -- and includes advanced tips for power searchers.

Search techniques

Almost all search engine searches are keyword searches, and search engines will often search for synonyms or related terms at the same time. Use your initial search to learn additional terms you can use in future searches, on the web, in the Library Catalogue, or in the Library's article databases

For more focussed searches, and to reduce the number of irrelevant results, try one of these techniques:

Phrase searching

To search for exact names, quotes, and other phrases, try placing quotation marks around your search terms. For example:

"fat tax"

This search will find Web resources in which the exact phrase "fat tax" appears.

Combined searching

You can also search for combinations of keywords and phrases. For example:

"fat tax" Canada

This search will find resources in which the phrase "fat tax" and the word Canada appear.

Other tips

Google Scholar

Google Scholar allows you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports. Many resources found in Google Scholar are available for free online or through SFU's paid subscriptions. Enter Google Scholar via the Library (you can also find it at SFU Library's Databases page) to search, then use the citation information to search the Library Catalogue for the resource itself.  

Need help? See From citation to article for more details, or Ask a librarian.

Tips for searching Google Scholar

For tips including searching by author or publication, restricting the article by date, and other techniques, see SFU Library's Search tips for Google and Google Scholar and Google's Advanced Scholar Tips

Evaluating sources

Whether you've found a blog post online, or a journal article, report, or book in the Library, or any other kind of resource, it's essential to evaluate its reliability.

Make sure to ask the basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? and Why?

Who: Authority

  • Who is the author (i.e. the individual or organization who created this resource)?
  • What kind of academic or professional credentials do they have?
  • Are they affiliated with any institutions or organizations?
  • Is the author a recognized expert in the area they are writing about?

What: Content

  • Is the information provided suitable for your topic?
  • Does the information seem credible based on other sources that you've read?
  • What kind of facts and opinions are expressed?

Where: Scope

  • Who is the intended audience for this resource?
  • What does the URL indicate about the scope and/or purpose of this resource (e.g. .com for commercial resources, .ca for Canadian sites, .edu for educational sites in the U.S., .gov/ for government sites, etc.)?

When: Currency

  • How recently was this resource published or last updated?
  • How current are the sources that the author cites?

Why: Objectivity

  • Is the information consistent with other scholarly resources related to this topic?
  • Is there any evidence that this resource may be biased (for example, information found on a political party or private company website)?
  • Are the author's sources clearly cited (are there references or a bibliography)? Can they be easily verified?
  • Does the page contain advertising? If so, are the ads clearly separated from the content?
  • Where do the page's links take you?

Additional sources for evaluating credibility

Evaluating Internet Resources (Ryerson University Library and Archives)
Strategies for evaluating websites as well as journal articles and books.

How to spot fake news: Identifying propaganda, satire, and false information
Includes a shareable graphic and quizzes to test your skills. 

How do I assess a publisher, journal, or conference?
This SFU guide, designed for faculty and graduate students, includes valuable tips for spotting predatory publishers and assessing the impact and importance of a journal.

Further study

University of Washington instructors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have created a credit course, Calling Bullshit, and have made their readings and lecture videos available online. In their words, "Our world is saturated with bull. Learn to detect and defuse it."