Video from: QVCC Library/2016/CC license
In the hierarchy of evidence, academic journal articles are one of the best sources of information you can use to back up your arguments. However, the article needs to be of good quality in order for it to give credence to your work. Choosing to use peer-reviewed articles can help, but you still need to do your own evaluation.
Step 1) Read the title.
Does the title give a good idea of what the article is about? A good journal article should make it easy for the reader to know what the author is writing about.
Step 2) Read the abstract.
Does the author provide information about the problem (if there is one), the hypothesis, the methods, theories, and conclusion? A good abstract provides a full summery of what the article is about.
Step 3) Determine whether the article is a primary or secondary source.
Primary sources involve original research or case studies, etc. Secondary sources are articles that discuss other articles--they will be called things like literature reviews, meta-analysis, or systematic reviews. The type of source will determine how it is evaluated. For example, a secondary source will not only have the methods of that one article to consider, but the methodology of all of the articles that are reviewed in that source.
Step 4) Consider the methods used.
If the article involves some kind of research, it will have a methods section. This may involve either qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. You will need to determine whether or not the methods used were appropriate for the study. For example, if the research involved a randomised controlled trial, was the randomization done correctly? Could there have been unintentional bias?
Step 5) Consider the theories and other research used to back up the author's arguments.
To complete this step, you may need to go to the reference section of the article to find out more information about the sources that the author used. You can also look up the theories independently to determine whether or not they make sense with what the author is proposing.
Step 6) Look at the results section.
If you are looking at a research study, there will often be a results section with statistical analysis. Read over this section carefully to make sure it makes sense. All tables should be clear and labeled.
Step 7) Consider the ethics.
Ethical considerations are especially important for research studies that involve human or animal participants. Although researchers may gain useful insights by causing harm to others, it is not ethical and is therefore always bad practice.