How do you determine the quality of a journal article?

In the theoretical framework of your thesis, you support the research that you want to perform by means of a literature review. Here, you are looking for earlier research about your subject. These studies are often published in the form of scientific articles in journals (scientific publications).

Why is good quality important?

The better the quality of the articles that you use in the literature review, the stronger your own research will be. When you use articles that are not well respected, you run the risk that the conclusions you draw will be unfounded. Your supervisor will always check the article sources for the conclusions you draw.

We will use an example to explain how you can judge the quality of a scientific article. We will use the following article as our example:

Example article

Perrett, D. I., Burt, D. M., Penton-Voak, I. S., Lee, K. J., Rowland, D. A., & Edwards, R. (1999). Symmetry and Human Facial Attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior20, 295-307. Retrieved from http://www.grajfoner.com/Clanki/Perrett%201999%20Symetry%20Attractiveness.pdf

This article is about the possible link between facial symmetry and the attractiveness of a human face.

Check the following points

1. Where is the article published?

The journal (academic publication) where the article is published says something about the quality of the article. Journals are ranked in the Journal Quality List (JQL). If the journal you used is ranked at the top of your professional field in the JQL, then you can assume that the quality of the article is high.

Example

The article from the example is published in the journal “Evolution and Human Behavior”. The journal is not on the Journal Quality List, but after googling the publication, it seems from multiple sources that it nevertheless is among the top in the field of Psychology (see Journal Ranking at  http://www.ehbonline.org/ and the impact factor at http://www.impactfactorsearch.com/IF.html). The quality of the source is thus high enough to use it.

So, if a journal is not listed in the Journal Quality List then it is worthwhile to google it. You will then find out more about the quality of the journal.

2. Who is the author?

The next step is to look at who the author of the article is:

  • What do you know about the person who wrote the paper?
  • Has the author done much research in this field?
  • What do others say about the author?
  • What is the author’s background?
  • At which university does the author work? Does this university have a good reputation?
Example

The lead author of the article (Perrett) has already done much work within the research field, including prior studies of predictors of attractiveness. Penton-Voak, one of the other authors, also collaborated on these studies. Perrett and Penton-Voak were in 1999 both professors at the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom. This university is among the top 100 best universities in the world. There is less information available about the other authors. It could be that they were students who helped the professors.

3. What is the date of publication?

In which year is the article published? The more recent the research, the better. If the research is a bit older, then it’s smart to check whether any follow-up research has taken place. Maybe the author continued the research and more useful results have been published.

Tip! If you’re searching for an article in Google Scholar, then click on ‘Since 2014’ in the left hand column. If you can’t find anything (more) there, then select ‘Since 2013’. If you work down the row in this manner, you will find the most recent studies.

Example

The article from the example was published in 1999. This is not extremely old, but there has probably been quite a bit of follow-up research done in the past 15 years. Thus, I quickly found via Google Scholar an article from 2013, in which the influence of symmetry on facial attractiveness in children was researched. The example article from 1999 can probably serve as a good foundation for reading up on the subject, but it is advisable to find out how research into the influence of symmetry on facial attractiveness has further developed.

4. What do other researchers say about the paper?

Find out who the experts are in this field of research. Do they support the research, or are they critical of it?

Example

By searching in Google Scholar, I see that the article has been cited at least 325 times! This says then that the article is mentioned at least in 325 other articles. If I look at the authors of the other articles, I see that these are experts in the research field. The authors who cite the article use the article as support and not to criticize it.

5. Determine the quality

Now look back: how did the article score on the points mentioned above? Based on that, you can determine quality.

Example

The example article scored ‘reasonable’ to ‘good’ on all points. So we can consider the article to be qualitatively good, and therefore it is useful in, for example, a literature review. Because the article is already somewhat dated, however, it is wise to also go in search of more recent research.

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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