Skills Earth Sciences

How to judge scientific literature

An important part of reading scientific literature is to evaluate the scientific quality of an article. There are 3 checks that ensure the quality of a publication:

Depending on the journal or publisher, a publication has to go through several checks before it is published. These checks give a journal its status. For example, peer reviewed journals often have good quality articles. As a reader of an article, you can assess the quality of an article by looking at the following aspects:

  • Editors – Scientific journals have an editorial board that checks the scientific quality of an article before it’s published, in contrast to most non-scientific journals.
  • Publishers – there are publishers that only publish high-quality scientific books.
  • Peer review – some journals only accept articles that are reviewed by peers to guarantee the quality of the publication.
  • Search engine – some engines (e.g. Scopus, Web of Science) only include (peer reviewed) scientific journals in their library.

Reviews and the number of citations in a book/article can give a good indication of the quality of the publication. In case of citations, consider the publication dates with regard to the number of citations. An article that is published last year obviously cannot be cited as much as an article published ten years ago. Also check why it is cited: is the article used to support other ideas, or is it mainly used as a detractor?

Sometimes, mainly for non-scientific sources, you have to carry out a check yourself. Often, these kind of sources are not peer reviewed and thus require extra caution before you can use them in a scientific context. Questions to ask to verify the quality of the source are:

  • Are the author, publisher and the date of publication specified?
  • What are the affinities of the author/publisher? What is their background, and in which position did they write the article?
  • Who is the target audience of the article?
  • Is the use of language scientific/professional?

If, after the aforementioned checks, you are still not sure about the quality of your source, it is always a good idea to discuss this with your supervisor or experienced staff member.


For more information, also see:

Evaluating sources | Utrecht University (

Get going – Evaluating sources – LibGuides at Utrecht University (