Evaluating the Reliability and Scientific Status of a Publication

In online sources, the publisher and the information presented are subject to evaluation

An internet search produces all kinds of results. Many of them are not scientifically reliable, even if they might look like it.

When assessing reliability, you should always determine:

  • Author(s): is the author a respected researcher in the field or is the community behind the publication considered to be of high scientific standard? 
  • Publisher: what is the author’s background organisation, what is the scientific level of the publication channel, such as a journal? 
  • Type of publication: is it an article published in a scientific journal or a monograph or compilation published by a scientific publisher?

Reliable internet sources include known expert organisations, respected and trusted institutes or companies in the field as well as materials that have undergone a scientific expert review (peer-review), such as scientific online journals and their articles.

Theses, such as master’s theses in universities and universities of applied sciences, are generally not considered quotable sources, except for licentiate theses and doctoral dissertations. However, this varies from field to field — you should verify the practices in your discipline with your thesis supervisor, in research seminars or from separate instructions, if available.

Reliability and objectivity:

  • How reliable and accurate is the presented information? Does the material found elsewhere support it (course books, journals)? 
  • Has the material been submitted and reviewed? Are there sources on the page on which the information presented is based? 
  • What is the motivation for publishing the page? (E.g., commercial or ideological influences) 
  • Is the information impartial or influential propaganda? 

Up-to-dateness and permanence:

  • Is the content of the publication up to date?
  • Can you find a release date or last update date in the material?
  • Is the online material permanent or changing?
  • Do the links on the page work?

It should be checked if journals and journal articles are peer-reviewed

It is possible to check if a journal has been peer-reviewed by:

  • visiting the journal’s (or its publisher’s) home page / finding the information within the journal — however, there are numerous phoney journals, whose home pages provide false or misleading information
  • some databases mention whether a journal is “peer-reviewed” or “refereed”
  • in databases, it is possible to limit the search to scientific journals
  • does the journal have an Impact Factor identification number (see Library Terminology: Impact Factor) — More information about Impact Factor and Journal Citation Reports can be found, for example, on the UEF Library Research Evaluation -website

Publication Forum (JUFO) features a universal classification rating for different publishing channels (scientific journals, conferences and book publishers). The classification has three levels. The criterion of peer-reviewing / scientific nature is already fulfilled on level 1. Journals are also ranked by their number of citations (impact factors). Visit Publication Forum’s Publication channel search.

It should be remembered that scientific journals may also include articles that have not been peer-reviewed. Such articles include editorials, news, book reviews and commentaries, for instance.

The evaluation of books is based on multiple factors

Publishers, editors, as well as the experts utilised by them are responsible for a book’s quality control. You may also search the Publication Forum for information about whether a publisher is considered scientific. Scientific publishers include some commercial publishers, universities, domestic and foreign scientific communities, as well as certain research institutions.

There are also publications for professionals, companies and authorities in many fields. Publications do not often qualify as scientific. Ministries, municipalities, as well as different organisations, associations and unions publish account and report types of literature, and articles are also published in professional journals.

It is often recommended to stay critical in regard to professional journals and organisational publications, administrative accounts, master’s theses and those of universities of applied sciences, as well as literature that doesn’t feature a high-quality table of contents.