Hello and Welcome! This research guide provides users with helpful tips about the research process and research tools. Included is information about subject-specific databases, journals, and research tips. This guide has been created to gather helpful resources to point users toward places to explore and find materials in the discipline. Any questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or asked at the reference desk.
This guide was created by Alayna L. Vander Veer, reference and instruction librarian.
If you have no idea what to write about, there are a few places to go for topic ideas.
Primary Sources and Archival Materials:
Databases use precision searching, which means that we must use keywords, Boolean Operators (AND,OR, NOT), and limiters to find relevant sources.
AND: Narrows search results. For example: Cat AND Dog will result in sources that have both of these words contained in them.
OR: Broadens search results. For example: Cat OR Dog will result in any source that has either of these words contained in them.
NOT: Excludes certain keywords from search results. For example: Cat NOT Dog will result in only sources that have the word cat contained in them.
Database: An online searchable record
Boolean Operator: They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.
Limiter (AKA filter): Allows users to limit their search results by certain criteria
It is crucial that we evaluate all of the information we use! All information was created by someone, for someone, and for some purpose ... meaning that information can be bias and influence our perception, opinions, and decisions. Below are some methods that will help us:
1. An information need refers to a desire or need to locate or obtain information. The purpose of this desire or need directs us to the type of information we should look for. For example, if I only want to know whether or not I need an umbrella for the day, I will want to consult the weather forecast in a local newspaper, or the weather app on my phone, or a quick Google Search. However, If my professor told me I need to use a scholarly article in my paper, I need to go to a library database and search for peer-reviewed articles.
2. Fact-checking is essential. One approach is the SIFT Method developed by information professional Mike Caulfield.
When you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—stop. Ask yourself whether you
know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website. If you don’t, use the other fact-checking moves
that follow, to get a better sense of what you’re looking at. In other words, don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable.
This is a particularly important step, considering what we know about the attention economy—social media,
news organizations, and other digital platforms purposely promote sensational, divisive, and outrage-inducing
content that emotionally hijacks our attention in order to keep us “engaged” with their sites (clicking, liking,
commenting, sharing). Stop and check your emotions before engaging!
I- Investigate the Source
You don’t have to do a three-hour investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you’re reading a piece on economics, and the author is a Nobel prize-winning economist, that would be useful information. Likewise, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption, you would want to be aware if the video was produced by the dairy industry. This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can’t ever be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided.
When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source they’re investigating.
F- Find Better Coverage
What if the source you find is low-quality, or you can’t determine if it is reliable or not? Perhaps you don’t
really care about the source—you care about the claim that source is making. You want to know if it is true
or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement.
A common example of this is a meme you might encounter on social media. The random person or group who
posted the meme may be less important than the quote or claim the meme makes.
Your best strategy in this case might actually be to find a better source altogether, to look for other coverage
that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim. Rather than relying on the source that you
initially found, you can trade up for a higher quality source.
The point is that you’re not wedded to using that initial source. We have the internet! You can go out and find
a better source, and invest your time there.
T- Trace Claims and Quotes
Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. Maybe there’s a video of a fight between
two people with Person A as the aggressor. But what happened before that? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding—but you’re not certain if the cited research paper actually said that. The people who re-report these stories either get things wrong by mistake, or, in some cases, they are intentionally misleading us. In these cases you will want to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented.
For more information check out the The University of Chicago's libguide on information evaluation: https://guides.lib.uchicago.edu/c.php?g=1241077&p=9082322
3. Evaluation means using critical thinking skills. A great evaluation method is ACT UP, created by Dawn Stahura to help students facilitate a critical perspective related to information and social justice.
A - Author:
Ask who the author is. Do they have any authority or credibility to be speaking out that topic?
C - Currency
Is the information in the source current or out-of-date? When was the source published? Have things changed since then?
T - Truth
Is the information presented in the source accurate or credible?
U - Unbiased
What stake does the author or publisher have in this information? What do they gain? What is their perspective? Do they want you to buy something?
P - Privilege
Whose voice is missing from the conversation or information?