What is a “judicious sense of evidence”?

This means, first of all, that you do not just include evidence for the sake of having evidence. Instead, you have sifted through your evidence to find that which best supports the particular point you are making. It also means that you use direct quotations only when the words of the source are particularly pertinent for your point.

A “judicious sense of evidence” also means that your evidence is credible. Credible evidence is typical, adequate, relevant and accurate.

A source also loses relevance if it becomes outdated. The general rule is that sources from experts (called secondary sources) should have been published in the last ten years. This rule does not apply to sources like newspaper accounts, diaries and other historical evidence from a period you may be researching. These are called primary sources and can be very old.

In academia, an important tool for ensuring that the sources you consult are accurate and otherwise credible is peer review. Peer review means that other experts in the field have looked at the source and deemed it credible. According to this criteria, popular magazines like Self, postings on blogs or personal home pages, and Wikipedia do not count as credible sources. 

Wikipedia is an interesting case because just about anyone can edit the entries in this online encyclopedia. This democratization of peer review has allowed Wikipedia to be exceptionally comprehensive, timely and often accurate. However, since you can never be sure of the authority of those editing it, Wikipedia, like encyclopedias in general, is a good place to start finding out about a topic. To confirm and deepen what you learn on Wikipedia or from other popular sources, research your topic in academic journals, like The Journal of the American Medical Association, and books published by university presses. Online, look for websites that have a form of expert review. For example, government publications and online academic journals are credible.

The best place to start looking for credible sources is through the DePaul Library, which you can access online with the number under the bar code on your ID. If you are not sure where to start, or get lost in the databases, try Ask a Librarian for online, telephone or in-person reference help.

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