Research for Essay Writing in English

This libguide was created to provide information resources and tools for the students of the Essay Writing course ENG 1100

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Understand the value of critically assessing your sources
  • Distinguish the difference between a scholarly source and a popular source
  • Apply evaluative criteria to information and its source (e.g. author's expertise, currency,
    accuracy, point of view, type of publication or information, sponsorship)

1. Why you should evaluate information?

As we conduct research, it is important to evaluate the information.  Even if the author is an expert in the field, we should view everything through a critical lens.  To look at information critically means you approach it like a “critic”. You must question, analyze, and contextualize your sources in order to make a decision about their value and appropriateness.

2. CARS Checklist

The CARS Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) is an approach to evaluating information. By learning to use the criteria in this list, you will be much more likely to separate the high-quality information from the poor quality information. (Please note that not all sources will meet every criteria)

Credibility:  concerns the reliability of the information you are reading, both the author’s credentials, and the quality of the writing itself.

  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Accuracy: concerns the quality of the information being presented, essentially is the information timely, factual, and would it be considered comprehensive in scope.

  • When was the information published or posted if it is an online source?
  • Has the information been updated?
  • Is the information current or out of date for your topic?
  • Is the information consistent or can you spot contradictory statements?
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

Reasonableness: concerns the objectivity of the information that is being presented?

  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Does the author provide a balanced view of the information?
  • Could there be a conflict of interest by the author or organization?
  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?

Support: concerns the reliability, accuracy, and support of the information being presented.

  • Where does the information come from? Do the references listed meet the criteria we have listed for evaluation?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source?
  • Can the references listed by the author(s) be easily located?

3. Active Reading

Active reading means reading a source with the purpose of understanding and evaluating it for its relevance to your needs. When actively reading, you will critically engage with the content. This process will save you time and help you effectively understand and learn. 

Some techniques that you can apply to active reading (from The Open University):

  • Underline or highlight keywords and phrases as you read. When you return to it later on, you can easily see which points you identified as important. Be selective - too much highlighting won't help.
  • Make annotations in the margin to summarise points, raise questions, challenge what you've read, write down examples, and so on. This takes more thought than highlighting, so you'll probably remember the content better. (Use sticky notes if you don't want to mark the text.)
  • Read critically by asking questions of the text. Who wrote it? When? Who is the intended audience? Does it link with other material you've studied in the module? Why do you think it was written? Is it an excerpt from a longer piece of text?
  • Test yourself by reading for half an hour, putting the text away, and writing down the key points from memory. Go back to the text to fill in gaps.
  • Look for 'signposts' that help you understand the text - phrases like 'most importantly', 'in contrast', 'on the other hand'.
  • Explain what you've read to someone else.
  • Record yourself reading the module material or your notes, and listen to the recording while you're traveling or doing household chores.

What does "peer reviewed" or "refereed" mean?

Peer-reviewed journals are academic research journals that contain articles in which an editorial committee has reviewed articles for submission without knowing the authors (blind review). 

To confirm that a journal is peer-reviewed look for submission and acceptance dates for an article, or at the cover info of the journal to determine the presence of an editorial board or committee.

Many databases provide the option to limit to scholarly /academic/ peer-reviewed journals during the search process.

Scholarly articles are not found in newspapers or popular magazines.  If your topic is current there may be few.

Academic/scholarly journals can also be recognized by other characteristics:

  • they usually have an “abstract”
  • they tend to be longer in length
  • they may have charts or graphs
  • they contain minimal advertising
  • they are  usually available at a university library or through a subscription
  • they may have words like Review, Studies or Quarterly in title


If you have questions, or if you run into problems that the guide does not address, e-mail Catherine Lachaîne at


This online guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. This page is attributed to Catherine Lachaîne.