Skip to Main Content

A Guide to Environmental Science Research

Evaluate your sources with the CUT test

When choosing sources for your research, use the criteria below to determine which sources are good enough to make the CUT!


  • When was the information published, posted, or revised?
  • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?


  • Does the source help you understand the problem/issue you are researching?
  • Does it contain information that will help you build an argument?
  • Who is the intended audience? (Is the source too basic or too advanced for your needs?)


  • Who is the author/publisher/source? Do they have expertise or experience that qualifies them as an authority on this particular topic?
    • Examples of authority: subject expertise (e.g., someone who does scholarly research in the area), societal position (e.g., public office), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event).
  • Do you agree with the way the author drew his/her conclusions?
  • Does the author cite their sources? Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?


Understand the differences between scholarly and popular sources

Characteristics such as writing style, vocabulary, and motive can help you judge how useful and trustworthy a source is for your particular information need. The characteristics listed below mean that scholarly sources are more likely to be trustworthy and accurate sources of information:

  Scholarly Sources Popular Sources
General definition: Written by experts in a particular discipline for other experts in the same discipline. Also referred to as peer-reviewed sources or refereed sources. Written for the general public. Examples include magazines articles, newspaper articles, popular books, websites, etc.
Writing style: Objective, neutral, and factual. Usually informal, and sometimes sensationalized or dramatized.
Motive: To inform. Conclusions are supported by facts and by references to other scholarly publications. Often to inform -- but sometimes to persuade, to make you feel emotional about an issue, or to sell you something.
Vocabulary: Usually highly technical and discipline-specific. Simple and easily understood by the general public.

Authors' names, affiliations, and contact info are provided. Authors usually work for academic or research institutions where an advanced degree (such as a PhD) is required for employment.

Authors are not always named. Authors may not have any particular expertise on the topic they are writing about.

Editorial process: Content is vetted through a peer-review process before publication to ensure accuracy and trustworthiness.

Content may be edited for grammar and style, and content may be fact checked, but content is not put through a peer-review process.

Trustworthiness: Because of the characteristics above, scholarly sources are more likely to be trustworthy and accurate sources of information. Because of the characteristics above, you should be cautious of the trustworthiness of popular sources.