Now that you’ve found potential sources for your topic, how do you know which ones to use?
There are two kinds of evaluation you’ll need to do. First, you’ll need to determine if the information you have found is reliable. Then, you’ll need to decide which sources are most useful for answering your research question.
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A good way to get started is to use the 5 W’s:
- Who wrote it? A individual or multiple persons? A corporate author?
- What is it? A book chapter, a book, a print periodical article, a full text article obtained via an online database, a government document, proceedings from a conference, a WWW page?
- Where was it published? Name and location of publishing company, name and domain (.edu., .org or .gov) of a WWW site or page.
- When was it published or updated?
- Why was this resource created? To entertain, inform, persuade? What is its thesis, its point of view, its hypothesis?
- How is the item available? In print or electronic form?
Sources you find using the library catalog or databases tend to be more reliable than sources you find using a search engine on the Web because they have gone through an intensive editing or peer-review process. Sources on the Web may not have as rigorous of a vetting process, so it makes sense to look at them with a critical eye.
When you are evaluating a Web site, you want to look for the same kinds of things you would look for when evaluating a book or article.
- Can you tell who the author of the site is? Is it a reputable individual or institution?
- Does the site have a date of publication or most recent update?
- Does the site seem to be aimed at other scholars or the general public? Is there a bibliography?
If the due date is less than a week away, you’ll need to focus on resources that our library has. If you have more time, you’ll be able to request articles and books through Interlibrary Loan.
You might also need to determine if the sources you’ve found are scholarly or popular.
Now, you have a pile of books, articles, and/or data sources. How do you pick what to spend your time on?
You can’t always tell whether or not a source is useful based on the title. It is a good idea to read the opening sections of articles or skim the introductions of books to get a sense of whether or not the source speaks directly to your topic.
As you are reading to get an overview, ask yourself some of these questions:
- Is the source too specific or esoteric?
- Is the source too general?
- Does the source address your topic directly?
- Does the source address a smaller part of your topic that you have no other sources for?
- Are you able to read it at a reasonable pace, or do you find yourself encountering a lot of specialized vocabulary that is not relevant to your topic?
Once you’ve selected a group of sources to work with, ask yourself:
- Do I have information that credibly supports my topic?
- Do I have information that represents a variety of viewpoints?
- Do my sources meet any requirements set by my instructor?
- If necessary, do I have information that is current?
- If necessary, do I have information that reflects the views of other time periods?
- Can I grasp these authors’ arguments well enough to meaningfully include them in my own?
Don’t hesitate to ask your professor or talk to a librarian about what you’ve found. We can’t make decisions about your topic for you, but we can use our experience to help you think through the process.
Return to Doing Research.