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Library Research Guides

PSYCH 303: Research Methods in Psychology

Tools and techniques for finding information for Psychology 303, taught in Winter 2018 by Prof. Colleen Seifert

Criteria for Judging Article Quality

Questions to ask  
How to determine the answer
Is it relevant to my research question?
This is the most important factor; if it isn't relevant, why use it?  But it's a subjective question.  Use your judgment: how does the content relate to my research question?  Is there a way to make it relate?


Is it in a peer-reviewed journal?
The full PsycINFO record tells you if the journal is peer-reviewed.  
You can also look up the journal title in UlrichsWeb.  In the "Basic Description" look for the "Refereed" field.


Does the article report on an empirical study(if that's the assignment)?


Students sometimes cite book reviews, literature reviews, or other kinds of articles when they've been asked to cite empirical studies.  To determine this factor, use your judgment; the abstract will make it clear.  PsycINFO also shows book reviews in Document Type, and literature reviews in Methodology.
Is it a journal article(vs.a dissertation or book)?


PsycINFO specifies the format of each item; Google Scholar tells you if it’s a book; otherwise, you need to judge by the publication information


Is it relatively recent


Self-evident.  It’s okay to include older references if they are the classic ones to which many other articles refer.  But you should try to find some more recent material, from the last 5-10 years if it’s available.


What is the quality of the research itself, in terms of methodology, appropriate sample, etc.?


You’re learning to evaluate that in your coursework.


Does the author have a good reputation?  The author's institution?


It takes time to get a sense of this.  If the author is very well-known and highly-published in the discipline, that's a plus.  But an unknown or first-time author can do high-quality work and publish a high-quality article. 


How many times has the article been cited?


You can look this up - several databases provide counts. Each database has a slightly different method for keeping track of citation counts, so numbers will often vary.
PsycINFO provides the PlumX Metrics tool, which tracks citations listed in a number of different scholarly indexes (i.e., scholarly literature databases). PsycINFO also includes information on the "Times Cited in this Database" --- not to be confused with the "Cited References" which is the bibliography list from the article.
Google Scholar provides a number (includes citations in books, and can include duplicates).
You can also use Web of Science to get a measure of times cited.
Caveats: Very recent articles haven’t been out long enough to have been cited!  And there can be reasons a problematic or controversial article might be cited a lot -- so, a high citation number is not always an indicator of high quality.)
Is the article in a “good journal”?


You might recognize the journal’s name from the readings for the class.
The library has a tool that you can use to look up a journal's “impact factor”  which is a summary of how many of the citable articles in a journal have been cited within two years after being published.  The tool is “Journal Citation Reports” or JCR.  
Having a relatively high impact factor (in comparison with journals in the same category---look at the journal rank) is generally considered a sign of quality or prestige.  However, it isn't appropriate to compare impact factors of journals in different categories (e.g., a medical journal vs. an education journal).  
Not all journals will be rated in JCR. However, journals not rated in JCR should not immediately be considered as inadequate. For example, they may be newer publications that are still establishing their reputation, or they may serve a very small niche audience. For more information on other ways to review journal quality, see Other Factors to Consider When Choosing a Journal from the Research Impact Metrics guide.

Related Guide: Research Impact Metrics: Citation Analysis