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Media Studies

Media Studies refers to the broad range of interdisciplinary subjects focusing on media culture and production.


The amount of information we have access to is overwhelming, and determining whether that information is reliable isn't always straightforward. The resources here have been curated to help you evaluate sources as you move through complex information ecosystems (especially online). The usefulness of a source and how “good” or “bad” it is will be determined by your needs and its relevance to your question. Sometimes, you will need scholarly articles that have been peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Other times, you might need first hand accounts from people with lived experiences in your topic of interest. Remember, any kind of resource can be appropriate and useful for your research, as long as you understand the particularities of each source type, as well as the perspectives and biases of any given source.

Below is a helpful video from Portland Community College on evaluating sources to find quality research that will be useful for your assignment and research question:

Peer-Reviewed Sources

Peer Review

Let's begin by discussing peer-reviewed articles. The goal of peer-review in academic publishing is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. Peer-review is exactly what it sounds like—articles must undergo a process of review by scholars in the field before they can be published in a peer-reviewed, academic journal. Here is an outline of the peer-review process:

  1. An author submits their article to a journal editor who forwards it to experts in the field. Because the reviewers specialize in the same field as the author, they are considered the author’s peers (hence “peer review”).
  2. The impartial reviewers carefully evaluate the quality of the submitted manuscript, checking it for accuracy and assessing the validity of the research methodology and procedures.
  3. If appropriate, they suggest revisions. If they find the article lacking in scholarly validity and rigor, they reject it.
  4. Because a peer-reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication should exemplify the best research practices in a field (to learn more about peer review practices in the sciences, read this article from Harvard University.

Some databases (such as OneSearch@IU) allow you to filter results by Peer-reviewed articles. It good practice to double check the journals from which the articles come to make sure that it is peer-reviewed (if this is what you are looking for). You can do this by googling the name of the journal. You can also refer to the following image when trying to determine if an article is peer-reviewed:

Image of a peer-reviewed, academic paper. Includes a breakdown of their different components, including journal name, abstract, headings, and so on

Caveat: It is important to note that peer review does not mean sources that undergo this form of review are objective or without bias. Bias and subjectivity can show up in a number of ways, both before and during any process of peer or editorial review. The peer review process (as well as other scholarly mechanisms) also privileges certain ways of thinking, communicating, and knowing, and not all thinkers or communities have access to (or choose to be part of) this system. While peer review is an integral evaluative process within many fields, and is one pathway through which knowledge can be created and shared, we suggest an expansive framework for finding, using, and evaluating sources, and for students and scholars to consider information sources beyond what makes it into the scholarly conversation through peer review when possible and appropriate.

Adapted in part from and image credit to: John Jay College of Criminal Justice Lloyd Sealy Library, Evaluating Information Sources: What Is A Peer-Reviewed Article?

Types of Sources

Scholarly sources are intended for academic use with a specialized vocabulary and extensive citations; these are often the peer-reviewed articles that we discussed above. Scholarly sources help answer the "so what?" questions and make connections between variables (or issues). They:

  • are published by academic institutions or scholarly platforms
  • are written by and for faculty, researchers, or other experts (or students) in a field
  • use scholarly, technical language
  • include a full bibliography of sources cited in the article
  • have minimal ads or other promotional material, usually for scholarly products (e.g., books) or field-related products

Examples of scholarly sources, including journals and books

Image Credit: Duquesne University, Raising Your Scholarly Profile.

To learn more about scholarly, popular, and trade sources, check out the following links:


Video: Vanderbilt University, Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals. (2017)

Popular sources are intended for the general public and are typically written to entertain, inform or persuade. Popular sources help you answer "who, what, where, and when" questions. Popular sources range from research-oriented to propaganda-focused. They:

  • are published by magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, and government agencies
  • are written by anyone (often journalists, freelancers, sometimes experts) for the general public
  • use familiar, non-technical language
  • rarely include sources, may offer links within publication or to similarly-focused sources
  • have ads for a variety of different products

Popular article sources vs. scholarly article sources

Image: Gannon University, Nash Library and Student Learning Commons. Research Process: A Step-by-Step Approach: 2b - Find Information Sources: Popular vs. Scholarly

How do I find popular sources?

Browse the databases below for various popular sources. If you don't see your publication of interest on this list, try searching the library website or contacting a librarian for more help.

  • Major U.S. Newspapers: Resource Guide: contains information about accessing the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and more.
  • National Geographic: A complete archive of National Geographic magazine, along with a cross-searchable collection of National Geographic books, maps, images and videos.
  • The New Yorker Digital Archive: Digital access to The New Yorker magazine.  Includes commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry. 
  • NPR (National Public Radio)

Trade publications share general news, trends, and opinions in a certain industry; they are not considered scholarly, because, although generally written by experts, they do not focus on advanced research and are not peer-reviewed. They:

  • are published trade associations or vendors
  • are written by staff writers, professionals, journalists or vendors in the field for professionals in a specific trade or industry
  • use field-specific technical language
  • rarely include sources, may offer short reference lists
  • have ads geared for the specific industry

Examples of trade publications, cover images on a white background

Image Credit: Rapp, Trade Publication Advertising

Finding Trade Publications

  • Many databases, including OneSearch@IU, allow you to filter by "Trade Publications"

Below is a list of other types of sources you may encounter or use for your research:

Books/Book Chapters: Many academic books will be edited by an expert or group of experts. Unlike a scholarly article, which will usually focus on the results of one research project, a book is likely to include an overview of research or issues related to its topic.   

Conference proceedings: Conference proceedings are compilations of papers, research, and information presented at conferences. Proceedings are sometimes peer-reviewed and are often the first publication of research that later appears in a scholarly publication. Proceedings are more commonly encountered (via databases and other searching) in science and engineering fields that in the arts and humanities.  

  • When searching OneSearch@IU, you can filter results by selecting "Conference Materials" under format. Many databases contain a conference proceedings/materials filter.

Government Documents: The Government Printing Office disseminates information issued by all three branches of the government to federal depository libraries (including IU Libraries). Additionally, the many departments of the government publish reports, data, statistics, white papers, consumer information, transcripts of hearings, and more. Some of the information published by government offices is technical and scientific.

Theses & Dissertations: Theses and dissertations are the result of an individual student's research while in a graduate program. They are written under the guidance and review of an academic committee but are not considered "peer-reviewed" publications.  

  • When searching OneSearch@IU, you can filter results by selecting "Dissertations/Theses" under format. 
  • Explore the Finding Dissertations and Theses Guide to learn more.
  • IUScholarWorks is a repository where anyone affiliated with IU can share their research openly so that it is available for anyone in the world to read. It’s important to remember that this includes graduate students! Graduate students can share papers, data, posters, and even their dissertation in IUScholarWorks.

Grey Literature: Grey literature refers to the wide body of reports, conference proceedings, preprint literature, working papers and drafts, personal communications, technical notes, theses & dissertations, and other ephemeral scientific and research materials published by business, governmental, or academic organizations. While not often utilized for student assignments, this literature can be helpful for engaging with new ideas, alternative perspectives, and emerging scholarship.

Adapted from: NM State University Library, Understanding & Evaluating Sources. (2022).

Evaluating Sources

Now that we've discussed peer-review and some types of articles, let's look at other ways to evaluate your sources. We will discuss media timescales, popular & media sources, what to do with sources, and some tests you can perform to evaluate credibility.

Media Timescales

Peer-reviewed sources are only one type of source. Let's think about some ways to identify sources and whether or not they will be valuable for your research. Sources go through various levels of review. The following graphic helps illustrate the speed at which media is published:

Media timescales diagram

A source with a slow media timescale doesn't necessarily indicate this it is better or more useful than a source with a fast media timescale. Some research questions require a combination of all three timescales while others—say literature reviews or papers with peer-reviewed sources as a requirement—will require slow timescales. Think about which kind of sources you are looking for. This can help you determine if a source will bolster the argument or your paper or if you adding that source will detract from it.

Adapted from and image credits to: The Media Timescale Edition by Noah Brier. Why is this interesting? Substack. (2022).

Lateral Reading

Lateral reading is a technique, often used by professional fact-checkers, that evaluates a source's credibility through external sources which refer to the original source. Lateral reading involves using Wikipedia, credible news sources, and other references to better understand a source's credibility, funding, reputation, conflicts, and biases. To perform lateral reading, open a new tab in your browser and search the name of your website of interest. You can also search for the author, publisher, and affiliated organization (i.e. funders, board members, supporters, etc.). Explore fact-checking websites such as PolitiFact, Snopes, and and media bias charts such as Ad Fontes or Allsides. Using lateral reading can help you evaluate many different types of sources including social media, websites, blogs, and news outlets. For more information on lateral reading, see Salem State University's How-To Guide and the Lateral Reading infographic from University of Louisville Libraries below:

Infographic of Lateral Reading explaining common website evaluating techniques vs. the lateral reading technique

Citations: Salem State University "Lateral Reading: A How-To," University of Louisville Libraries "Lateral Reading,"  The Ohio State University Teaching & Learning Resource Center "Evaluating Sources Using Lateral Reading," Milton Academy "GEN: Source Evaluation: Lateral Reading"

Video: Stanford History Education Group, Sort Fact from Fiction Online with Lateral Reading. (2020)

Media and Popular SourcesPhoto of a city newsstand, with an individual browsing the newspapers and magazines

Popular sources typically refer to general interest publications like newspapers and magazines. While different from scholarly sources, some newspapers and magazines might be useful in helping you answer your research question. For example, if you are performing research on public policy and information campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Twitter feed of a local health organization might provide you with valuable information. Magazine articles, newspapers, and blogs can inform you about the public perception of an event during a certain time and how people reacted to said event. Popular sources can also provide simplified descriptions of scholarly research, background information, or offer opinions and more personal points of view on a topic. See our section on News & Newspapers to learn more about evaluating popular sources.

What do I do with different sources?

Below is a method called BEAM, which asks you to consider the function of your source—what it is and how you might want to use it in your paper. For example, a passage from a novel might work better in a body paragraph of your essay rather than in the introduction or conclusion.

Source Function Explanation Types of Sources Where can I use it?
B: Background Factual and noncontroversial information, providing context Encyclopedia articles, overviews in books, statistics, historical facts Introduction
E: Exhibit/ Evidence Data, observations, objects, artifacts, documents that can be analyzed Text of a novel, field observations, focus group transcriptions, questionnaire data, results of an experiment, interview data (primary sources) Body/Results
A: Argument Critical views from other scholars and commentators; part of the academic conversation Scholarly articles, books, critical reviews (e.g. literacy criticism), editorials Body, sometimes in Introduction or in Literature Review
M: Method Reference to methods or theories used, usually explicit though may be implicit; approach or research methodology used Part of books or articles with reference to theorists (e.g. Foucault, Derrida) or theory (e.g. feminism, post-colonialism, new historicism etc.); information on a research methodology Methods or referenced in Introduction or Body

Citations: UC Merced Library, Source Functions: Background, Exhibits, Argument, Method (BEAM). (2022).

Evaluating Credibility

When locating and evaluating resources, you can use the SCAAN test to help determine if they are appropriate to use, reliable, and relevant:

  • (S)ource type: Does this source answer your research question? Is it an appropriate type (scholarly or popular, for instance) for your question? Does this contain the information you need to support your argument?
  • (C)urrency: Is this source up-to-date? Do I need a resource that contains historical information?
  • (A)ccuracy: Is this source accurate? Does its logic make sense to me? Are there any internal contradictions? Does it link or refer to its sources? Does more current data affect the accuracy of the content?
  • (A)uthority: Who created or authored this source? Could the author or creator bring any biases to the information presented? Is the author or creator a reputable or well-respected agent in the subject area?
  • (N)eutrality: Is this source intended to educate, inform, or sell? What is the purpose of this source? Are you looking for a piece that is not neutral?

There are a number of other, similar "tests" that you can use to assess the credibility and utility of information and resources you find. These include:

  • ACTUP: Author, Currency, Truth, Unbiased, Privilege
  • CARBS: Currency, Authority, Relevancy, Biased or Factual, Scholarly or Popular
  • CARS: Credibility (authority), Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support
  • DUPED: Dated, Unambiguous, Purpose, Expertise, Determine (source)
  • IMVAIN: Independent, Multiple sources quoted, Verified with evidence, Authoritative, Informed, Named sources
  • RADAR: Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Relevance
  • CRAAP: Currency, Relevance (source), Accuracy, Authority, Purpose (neutrality):

Whichever heuristic or evaluation you use, remember that lived experience is a form of expertise; it's often helpful to consider the position and experiences from which an author speaks or writes as part of your process of evaluating a source or piece of information. You may also want to reflect on your own biases when reviewing your information. How might your identity and positionality impact your consideration or evaluation of a source? If the source had the opposite position or result, how would that affect your opinion of its validity? 

Video: UOW Library, Evaluating Sources. (2018)

Adapted from: USC Libraries Research Guides, Evaluating Information Sources.