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Evaluating Sources

How to Detemine Audience

Identifying the intended audience for information is one step in evaluating sources.

Every publication and website has expectations of its target audience. The descriptions below can be applied to periodicals, books, web sites, social media, and any other source of content. Use these descriptions in your annotations.

Types of Audiences

Think about how much specialized knowledge of a topic the target audience is expected to have in order to understand the content.

Some basic groups are:

  • General public - little to no prior knowledge or understanding
  • K-12 Students - younger people expected to learn about the topic
  • Undergraduate students - people who are learning more about a topic
  • Professionals who work in the field / subject / discipline - people who use the topic everyday
  • Academics in the field / subject / discipline - people who study the topic

Academics can be considered as a special case of professional.

Types of Sources

These categories identify the format of the publication / web site / source.

Some publications and websites fall into multiple categories.

Academic, Scholarly, Peer Reviewed

  • Articles written by scholars or researchers in the field, often faculty with Ph.Ds
  • Almost always lists sources and/or includes a bibliography
  • Reports on original research or experimentation
  • Often published by a university press, research center or academic association
  • May contain visual information including charts and graphs that is appropriate and specific to the field and discipline.
  • May be scholarly because of the credentials of the writers, but targeted towards students, such as an encyclopedia
  • Not usually available on a newsstand
  • Examples of periodicals: Fashion Theory, Domus, Art History, Art Bulletin, Journal of the American Medical Association
     

Industry /Trade / Professional Publications

(sometimes referred to as "Professional")

  • Written for (and usually by) people in an industry or field rather than a university professor
  • Assumes knowledge of the field
  • Not usually available on the newsstand
  • Only sometimes lists sources or includes bibliography
  • Often published by a professional association
  • Examples of periodicals: American Libraries, Playthings, Communication Arts, Animation Magazine
     

Substantive News

  • Often glossy in appearance with color illustrations
  • Sometimes list sources or includes bibliography
  • Usually available on the newsstand
  • Articles usually have a named author/s
  • Level of writing geared to educated or well-read audience
  • Examples of periodicals: National Geographic, Art in America, Artforum, Wall Street Journal, Discover
     

Popular

  • Easily purchased on newsstands, bookstores or available for free via the Internet
  • Geared towards general audiences
  • Articles written by staff writers or freelance writers 
  • Slick or glossy (in print version), with lots of advertising
  • Seldom includes list of sources 
  • Examples of periodicals: People, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Rolling Stone
     

Sensational

  • Variety of styles, but often newspaper format when in print
  • Language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational
  • Often unsigned
  • Purpose is to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions
  • Flashy headlines designed to astonish
  • Examples of periodicals/websites: National Enquirer, Star, some Yahoo News

Quick Questions

  • Does it assume that the reader is knows a lot about the subject?
    • Yes = scholarly, trade/professional
    • No = general public
  • Does it use specialized vocabulary, long words, complicated sentences?
    • Academic jargon = scholarly
    • Professional jargon = trade/professional
    • None, easy to read = general public
  • Is it trying to provoke a reaction?
    • Strong reaction = sensational
    • Spark interest = popular
    • Attempt to maintain neutrality (i.e. "just the facts") or balance = news

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