In today’s information saturated world, it is important to be able to critically evaluate both popular sources and scholarly sources of information. Websites must also be evaluated for their content, purpose, accuracy, authorship, currency and design. No one evaluates information on the Internet. It is up to you as the information consumer to be able to distinguish what is trustworthy and untrustworthy information in doing your research. This is part of what is called information literacy.
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources
- are academic in nature such as journals, dissertations, theses (i.e. Journal of Dental Hygiene, JAVMA, American Journal of Occupational Therapy)
- are peer-reviewed by an editorial board before being published online or in print
- lack graphics and pictures
- are text-based
- require technical knowledge to understand
- general interest magazines and newspapers (i.e. Time, Newsweek, National Geographic)
- are written from a more generalized point of view
- look visually appealing and have an abundance of graphics and advertisements
- give a broad overview of a topic
When you are doing research, it is important to distinguish between these types of sources depending on the topic you have chosen to write about. Please always check with your instructor for specific assignment guidelines.
Please also see this handout for more information about Scholarly versus Popular Sources.
Another facet of being an information detective and consumer is website evaluation. This involves critically thinking about the information you are presented with on a website. It involves looking at such things as authorship, content, accuracy, objectivity, currency, coverage and design.
Please see this handout – Website Evaluation Guidelines which explains in detail the criteria for evaluation.
The Research Process
It is important to remember that research is a process – it takes time to do it. You must plan out your research project step-by-step, otherwise you will be too overwhelmed by all you have to do.
Follow these steps below to manage your research projects:
- Choose a Topic
- This topic will probably be broad at first, and that’s okay. You will then want to narrow it to something you’re interested in or want to argue about.
- Background Information
- Use class textbooks, encyclopedias or dictionaries to gather a broad overview on your topic. The Credo Reference database is a great way to find general information on a topic. Also, you can use the “Mind Map” feature to visualize your topic and also search for keywords. See the example screenshot for “Addiction” below. Use this time to also brainstorm and investigate about where your topic could go. You may stumble across something that interests you that doesn’t have anything to do with your original topic.
- Below is an example search for “addiction” using the Credo Reference Mind Map. You can see how the term is centralized and then branches out with related terms. The side bar on the right contains articles relating to that central term and automatically updates when changes are made.
- Narrowing your Topic
- After you have chosen a topic and have gathered background information, you will need to narrow down your topic so that you can frame it into a question. Focusing on time, place, person(s) or aspects of your topic will help. Again, using Credo Reference and the “Mind Map” will help in focusing your topic into a research-based question.
- Form a Research Question
- Now that you have your research focused on a particular area of your topic, you can now form a research question, or more formally known as a thesis statement. This is where you will take a stance or form an argument, debate a topic or explain a new discovery about something you are interested in.
- Brainstorming – Search Term Lists
- It is also helpful to create lists of keywords so that when you do venture off to look in electronic databases or on Google, you have words you can use in these databases. Think about and identify certain concepts, key terms and other related terms for your topic. Use the “Mind Map” to help yourself visualize keywords.
Other Tips for Searching
- Use relevant keywords for your topic
- When using phrase searching, please put quotes around the words, (i.e. “teen parenting”) otherwise, Google or a database will search those words separately instead of together.
- Boolean Searching – This involves using the operators AND, OR, NOT in your searching. Please see this handout for examples on how this would work using keywords.
- (+) or (-) sign – Using the plus or minus sign will add or subtract keywords from your search string.
- Searching a Single Website – To search for articles on a single website in Google or any other popular search engine, type (site:chicagotribune.com “teen parenting”) into the search box. This will only search the Chicago Tribune website for articles about teen parenting.
- Website Evaluation
- Information Literacy Guide – Iowa State University
- Website Research Guide – Central Michigan University
For a refresher on the entire information gathering process, please see this tutorial from Credo Reference, Inc.