Chapter 7. Sources: Choosing the Right Ones
Before now, we have looked at using expository essay forms as ways to construct essays. In this chapter, we will begin to l0ok at being more critical: not only with the sources we choose but also in how we compose our ideas. Also, this chapter will help you finalize the selection of your article for your critique. In the next chapter, you will have the opportunity to expand on the examples given and apply your own information and ideas to develop your critical essay. Before we begin that, we need to further examine how important it is to choose correct sources as supporting evidence for ideas. You will also explore different resources available to you where you can search to find supporting evidence because you cannot always rely on basic Internet searches to help you find the best support available. You have already explored different topics you find interesting when coming up with a topic for your expository essay, and while the content of this chapter is relevant to conducting any type of research, consider the connection to finding a suitable academic article for your critique. You may have already come across an academic journal article you would like to be the basis for your critique. If you have, you still should apply the material in this chapter as you may discover an article you would prefer to use. Also, you will need to apply the information in section 7.1: Choosing a Source to confirm whether the source you have chosen is appropriate. If you have not found an article yet or discover the one you chose does not fit the parameters, the content below will help you find one that is both interesting and fits the parameters for your next essay.
7.1 Choosing a Source
- Identify and apply the criteria for finding an academic journal article to critique
- Identify key terminology on your topic to guide your article search
In the next chapter, you will learn more about the details of what makes a critique and how to write one. For a description of the critique requirements, refer to the Assessment Descriptions as part of the course overview in your syllabus.
How Choosing a Source for a Critique is Different
Most essays focus on a topic–one you have narrowed down–and require a number of sources to back up the points or ideas. A critique, on the other hand, focuses on onesource of information. Soon you will learn more about critiquing, but at this stage, it is important to know this is the key difference between a critique and a research paper because it will have an impact your choice of base and supplemental sources. However, you first need to choose a topic that you will then narrow in your search for an appropriate academic article to critique. Simply stated, then, a critique is typically a discussion centred around one primary source. However, just as with any other essay, you may need to bring in supplemental sources to support the ideas you present in your discussion. While your next assignment stems around the one source you choose, you will need to look for other sources on the same topic in case you need them for background or supporting information or to even present opposing points of view.
For the critique you are required to write for your next assignment, the original source you will base your critical response on needs to meet the criteria outlined in Table 7.1: Source Selection Criteria.
Table 7.1 Source Selection Criteria
|It should:||It should NOT:|
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.1
Take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas on a topic you find interesting. This may be the same one you used for your expository essay, or it may be another one entirely. Try to come up with preliminary ideas and different key words or specific areas within that topic. Once you have brainstormed, write the key words below for easy reference. You will later use these key words when you are conducting your article search.
Table 7.1 gives you an idea of the technical criteria you need to meet when choosing a source for your next assignment. The next section will help you ensure you find a credible source, and one that meets the requirement to use an appropriate academic source.
7.2 Strategies for Gathering Reliable Information
- Distinguish between primary and secondary sources
- Identify strategies for locating relevant print and electronic resources efficiently
- Identify instances when it is appropriate to use human sources, such as interviews or eyewitness testimony
- Identify criteria for evaluating research resources
- Understand why many electronic resources are not reliable
Now that you have chosen your topic, you are ready to begin the research. This phase can be both exciting and challenging. As you read this section, you will learn ways to locate sources efficiently, so you have enough time to read the sources, take notes, and think about how to use the information.
Of course, the technological advances of the past few decades—particularly the rise of online media—mean that, as a 21st century student, you have countless sources of information available at your fingertips. However, how can you tell whether a source is reliable? This section will discuss strategies for evaluating sources critically so that you can be a media savvy researcher.
Locating Useful Resources
When you chose a topic and determined your research questions, you conducted preliminary research to stimulate your thinking. Your proposal included some general ideas for how to go about your research—for instance, interviewing an expert in the field or analyzing the content of popular magazines. You may even have identified a few potential sources. Now it is time to conduct a more focused, systematic search for informative primary and secondary sources.
Using Primary and Secondary Sources
Writers classify research resources in two categories: primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are direct, firsthand sources of information or data. For example, if you were writing a paper about freedom of religion, the text of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be a primary source.
Other primary sources include the following:
Historical documents such as diaries or letters
Autobiographies or other personal accounts
Secondary sources discuss, interpret, analyze, consolidate, or otherwise rework information from primary sources. In researching a paper about freedom of religion, you might read articles about legal cases that involved freedom of religion, or editorials expressing commentary on freedom of religion. These would be considered secondary sources because they are one step removed from the primary source of information.
The following are examples of secondary sources:
Literary and scientific reviews
Your topic and purpose determine whether you must cite both primary and secondary sources in your paper. Ask yourself which sources are most likely to provide the information that will answer your research questions. If you are writing a research paper about reality television shows, you will need to use some reality shows as a primary source, but secondary sources, such as a reviewer’s critique, are also important. If you are writing about the health effects of nicotine, you will probably want to read the published results of scientific studies, but secondary sources, such as magazine articles discussing the outcome of a recent study, may also be helpful.
Once you have thought about what kinds of sources are most likely to help you answer your research questions, you may begin your search for print and electronic resources. The challenge is to conduct your search efficiently. Writers use strategies to help them find the sources that are most relevant and reliable while steering clear of sources that will not be useful.
Finding Print Resources
Print resources include a vast array of documents and publications. Regardless of your topic, you will consult some print resources as part of your research. (You will use electronic sources as well, but it is not wise to limit yourself to electronic sources only because some potentially useful sources may be available only in print form.) Table 7.2: Library Print Resources lists different types of print resources available at public and university libraries.
Table 7.2 Library Print Resources
|Reference works||Reference works provide a summary of information about a particular topic. Almanacs, encyclopedias, atlases, medical reference books, and scientific abstracts are examples of reference works. In some cases, reference books may not be checked out of a library. Note that reference works are many steps removed from original primary sources and are often brief, so they should be used only as a starting point when you gather information.||
|Nonfiction books||Nonfiction books provide in-depth coverage of a topic. Trade books, biographies, and how-to guides are usually written for a general audience. Scholarly books and scientific studies are usually written for an audience that has specialized knowledge of a topic.||
|Periodicals and news sources||These sources are published at regular intervals—daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Newspapers, magazines, and academic journals are examples. Some periodicals provide articles on subjects of general interest, while others are more specialized.||
|Government publications||Federal, provincial, and local government agencies publish information on a variety of topics. Government publications include reports, legislation, court documents, public records, statistics, studies, guides, programs, and forms.||
|Business and nonprofit publications||Businesses and nonprofit organizations produce publications designed to market a product, provide background about the organization, provide information on topics connected to the organization, or promote a cause. These publications include reports, newsletters, advertisements, manuals, brochures, and other print documents.||
Some of these resources are also widely available in electronic format. In addition to the resources noted in the table, library holdings may include primary texts such as historical documents, letters, and diaries.
Writing at Work
Businesses, government organizations, and nonprofit organizations produce published materials that range from brief advertisements and brochures to lengthy, detailed reports. In many cases, producing these publications requires research. A corporation’s annual report may include research about economic or industry trends. A charitable organization may use information from research in materials sent to potential donors.
Regardless of the industry you work in, you may be asked to assist in developing materials for publication. Often, incorporating research in these documents can make them more effective in informing or persuading readers.
As you gather information, strive for a balance of accessible, easy-to-read sources and more specialized, challenging sources. Relying solely on lightweight books and articles written for a general audience will drastically limit the range of useful, substantial information. On the other hand, restricting oneself to dense, scholarly works could make the process of researching extremely time consuming and frustrating.
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.2
Make a list of five types of print resources you could use to find information about your topic. Include at least one primary source. Be as specific as possible. If you have a particular resource or type of resource in mind, describe it.
To find print resources efficiently, first identify the major concepts and terms you will use to conduct your search—that is, your keywords. These will help you find sources using any of the following methods:
Using the library’s online catalogue
Using periodicals indexes and databases
Consulting a reference librarian
After completing Self–Practice Exercise 7.1, you already have some keywords in mind based on your preliminary research and writing. Another way to identify useful keywords is to visit the Library of Congress’s website at http://id.loc.gov/authorities (used as a point of reference throughout North America). This site allows you to search for a topic and see the related subject headings used by the Library of Congress, including broader terms, narrower terms, and related terms. Other libraries use these terms to classify materials. Knowing the most-used terms will help you speed up your keyword search.
At this point, you should have selected the academic article you would like to give to your instructor for approval; before submitting it, however, you do want to skim the article and come up with some ideas you could use for your critique.
Jorge, who you first met in Chapter 3, used the Library of Congress site to identify general terms he could use to find resources about low-carb dieting. His search helped him identify potentially useful keywords and related topics, such as carbohydrates in human nutrition, glycemic index, and carbohydrates—metabolism. These terms helped Jorge refine his search.
Knowing the right keywords can sometimes make all the difference in conducting a successful search. If you have trouble finding sources on a topic, consult a librarian to see whether you need to modify your search terms.
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.3
Visit the Library of Congress’s website athttp://id.loc.gov/authorities and conduct searches on a few terms related to your topic.
Review your search results and identify six to eight additional terms you might use when you conduct your research.
Print out the search results or save the results to your research folder on your computer or portable storage device.
Using Periodicals, Indexes, and Databases
Library catalogues can help you locate book length sources, as well as some types of nonprint holdings, such as CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks. To locate shorter sources, such as magazine and journal articles, you will need to use a periodical index or an online periodical database. These tools index the articles that appear in newspapers, magazines, and journals. Like catalogues, they provide publication information about an article and often allow users to access a summary or even the full text of the article.
Print indexes may be available in the periodicals section of your library. Increasingly, libraries use online databases that users can access through the library website. A single library may provide access to multiple periodical databases. These can range from general news databases to specialized databases. Table 7.3: Commonly Used Databases describes some indexes and databases that are frequently used.
Table 7.3 Commonly Used Databases
Academic Search (EBSCOhost)
|Online||General content from magazines, journals, and books|
Canadian Newsstand (ProQuest)
|Online||News and current event-related content from magazines and newspapers|
|Business Source Complete (EBSCOhost)||Online||Business-related content from magazines and journals|
|Criminal Justice (ProQuest)||Online||Content from journals in criminology and law|
|MEDLINE (EBSCOhost) PubMed (OPEN ACCESS)||Online||Articles in medicine and health|
|PsycINFO (EBSCOhost)||Online||Content from journals in psychology and psychiatry|
|SocINDEX (EBSCOhost)||Online||General content from magazines, journals, and books|
Reading Popular and Scholarly Periodicals
When you search for periodicals, be sure to distinguish among different types. Mass market publications, such as newspapers and popular magazines, differ from scholarly publications in their accessibility, audience, and purpose.
Newspapers and magazines are written for a broader audience than scholarly journals. Their content is usually quite accessible and easy to read. Trade magazines that target readers within a particular industry may presume the reader has background knowledge, but these publications are still reader friendly for a broader audience. Their purpose is to inform and, often, to entertain or persuade readers as well.
Scholarly or academic journals are written for a much smaller and more expert audience. The creators of these publications assume that most of their readers are already familiar with the main topic of the journal. The target audience is also highly educated. Informing is the primary purpose of a scholarly journal. While a journal article may advance an agenda or advocate a position, the content will still be presented in an objective style and formal tone (which is why you have been asked to find an academic journal article). Entertaining readers with breezy comments and splashy graphics is not a priority with this type of source.
Because of these differences, scholarly journals are more challenging to read. That does not mean you should avoid them. On the contrary, they can provide in-depth information that is unavailable elsewhere. Because knowledgeable professionals carefully review the content before publication, scholarly journals are far more reliable than much of the information available in popular media. Seek out academic journals along with other resources. Just be prepared to spend a little more time processing the information.
Writing at Work
Periodicals databases are not just for students writing research papers. They also provide a valuable service to workers in various fields. The owner of a small business might use a database such as Business Source Complete to find articles on management, finance, or trends within a particular industry. Health care professionals might consult databases such as MEDLINE to research a particular disease or medication. Regardless of what career path you plan to pursue, periodicals databases can be a useful tool for researching specific topics and identifying periodicals that will help you keep up with the latest news in your industry.
Consulting a Reference Librarian
Sifting through library stacks and database search results to find the information you need can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you are not sure how you should begin your search, or if it is yielding too many or too few results, you are not alone. Many students find this process challenging, although it does get easier with experience. One way to learn better search strategies is to consult a reference librarian.
Reference librarians are intimately familiar with the systems libraries use to organize and classify information. They can help you locate a particular book in the library stacks, steer you toward useful reference works, and provide tips on how to use databases and other electronic research tools. Take the time to see what resources you can find on your own, but if you encounter difficulties, ask for help. Many university librarians hold virtual office hours and are available for online chatting.
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.4
Visit your library’s website or consult with a reference librarian to determine what periodicals indexes or databases would be useful for your research. Depending on your topic, you may rely on a general news index, a specialized index for a particular subject area, or both. Search the catalogue for your topic and related keywords. Print out or bookmark your search results.
Identify at least one to two relevant periodicals, indexes, or databases.
Conduct a keyword search to find potentially relevant articles on your topic.
Save your search results. If the index you are using provides article summaries, read these to determine how useful the articles are likely to be.
Identify at least three to five articles to review more closely. If the full article is available online, set aside time to read it. If not, plan to visit our library within the next few days to locate the articles you need.
One way to refine your keyword search is to use Boolean operators. These allow you to combine keywords, find variations on a word, and otherwise expand or limit your results. Here are some of the ways you can use Boolean operators:
Combine keywords with and or + to limit results to citations that include both keywords—for example, diet + nutrition.
Combine keywords with or to find synonyms. For example, prison or jail. The phrase “Or is more” may help you remember that using this will show you more results.
Combine keywords with not or – to search for the first word without the second. This can help you eliminate irrelevant results based on words that are similar to your search term. For example, searching for stress fractures not geological locates materials on fractures of bones but excludes materials on fractures of stones. Use this one cautiously because it may exclude useful sources.
Enclose a phrase in quotation marks to search for an exact phrase, such as “morbid obesity,” “use of force,” or “law enforcement.”
Use parentheses to direct the order of operations in a search string. For example, since Type II diabetes is also known as adult onset diabetes, you could search (Type II or adult onset or Type 2) and diabetes to limit your search results to articles on this form of the disease.
Use a wildcard symbol such as *, #, ?, or $ after a word to search for variations on a term. For instance, you might type gang* to search for information on gang, gangs, and gangland. The specific symbol used varies with different databases.
Finding and Using Electronic Resources
With the expansion of technology and media over the past few decades, a wealth of information is available to you in electronic format. Some types of resources, such as television documentaries, may only be available electronically. Other resources—for instance, many newspapers and magazines—may be available in both print and electronic form. The following are some of the electronic sources you might consult:
Popular web search engines
Websites maintained by businesses, universities, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies
Newspapers, magazines, and journals published on the web
Radio and television programs and other audio and video recordings
Online discussion groups
The techniques you use to locate print resources can also help you find electronic resources efficiently. Libraries usually include CD-ROMs, audiobooks, and audio and video recordings among their holdings. You can locate these materials in the catalogue using a keyword search. The same Boolean operators used to refine database searches can help you filter your results in popular search engines.
Using Internet Search Engines Efficiently
When faced with the challenge of writing a research paper, some students rely on popular search engines as their first source of information. Typing a keyword or phrase into a search engine instantly pulls up links to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of related websites—what could be easier? Unfortunately, despite its apparent convenience, this research strategy has the following drawbacks:
Results do not always appear in order of reliability. The first few hits that appear in search results may include sites with unreliable content, such as online encyclopedias that can be edited by any user. Because websites are created by third parties, the search engine cannot tell you which sites have accurate information.
Results may be too numerous for you to use. The amount of information available on the web is far greater than the amount of information housed within a particular library or database. Realistically, if your web search pulls up thousands of hits, you will not be able to visit every site—and the most useful sites may be buried deep within your search results.
Search engines are not connected to the results of the search. Search engines find websites that people visit often and list the results in order of popularity. The search engine, then, is not connected to any of the results. When you cite a source found through a search engine, you do not need to cite the search engine. Only cite the source.
A general web search can provide a helpful overview of a topic and may pull up genuinely useful resources. To get the most out of a search engine like google scholar (http://scholar.google.ca/), however, use strategies to make your search more efficient. Use multiple keywords and Boolean operators to limit your results. Click on the advanced search link on the homepage to find additional options for streamlining your search. Depending on the specific search engine you use, the following options may be available:
Limit results to websites that have been updated within a particular time frame
Limit results by language or country
Limit results to scholarly works available online
Limit results by file type
Limit results to a particular domain type, such as .edu (school and university sites) or .gov (government sites). This is a quick way to filter out commercial sites, which can often lead to more objective results.
Use the “bookmarks” or “favourites” feature of your web browser to save and organize sites that look promising.
Using Other Information Sources: Interviews
With so many print and electronic media readily available, it is easy to overlook another valuable information resource: other people. Consider whether you could use a person or group as a primary source. For instance, you might interview a professor who has expertise in a particular subject, a worker within a particular industry, or a representative from a political organization. Interviews can be a great way to get firsthand information.
To get the most out of an interview, you will need to plan ahead. Contact your subject early in the research process and explain your purpose for requesting an interview. Prepare detailed questions. Open-ended questions, rather than questions with simple yes or no answers, are more likely to lead to an in-depth discussion. Schedule a time to meet, and be sure to obtain your subject’s permission to record the interview. Take careful notes and be ready to ask follow-up questions based on what you learn.
If scheduling an in-person meeting is difficult, consider arranging a telephone interview or asking your subject to respond to your questions via email. Recognize that any of these formats takes time and effort. Be prompt and courteous, avoid going over the allotted interview time, and be flexible if your subject needs to reschedule.
Evaluating Research Resources
As you gather sources, you will need to examine them with a critical eye. Smart researchers continually ask themselves two questions: “Is this source relevant to my purpose?” and “Is this source reliable?” The first question will help you avoid wasting valuable time reading sources that stray too far from your specific topic and research questions. The second question will help you find accurate, trustworthy sources.
Determining Whether a Source Is Relevant
At this point in your research process, you may have identified dozens of potential sources. It is easy for writers to get so caught up in checking out books and printing out articles that they forget to ask themselves how they will use these resources in their research. Now is a good time to get a little ruthless. Reading and taking notes takes time and energy, so you will want to focus on the most relevant sources.
To weed through your stack of books and articles, skim their contents. Read quickly with your research questions and subtopics in mind. Table 7.4: Tips for Skimming Books and Articles explains how to skim to get a quick sense of what topics are covered. If a book or article is not especially relevant, put it aside. You can always come back to it later if you need to.
Table 7.4 Tips for Skimming Books and Articles
|Tips for Skimming Books||Tips for Skimming Articles|
Read the dust jacket and table of contents for a broad overview of the topics covered.
Use the index to locate more specific topics and see how thoroughly they are covered.
Flip through the book and look for subtitles or key terms that correspond to your research.
|Skim the introduction and conclusion for summary material. Skim through subheadings and text features such as sidebars. Look for keywords related to your topic. Journal articles often begin with an abstract or summary of the contents. Read it to determine the article’s relevance to your research.|
Determining Whether a Source Is Reliable
All information sources are not created equal. Sources can vary greatly in terms of how carefully they are researched, written, edited, and reviewed for accuracy. Common sense will help you identify obviously questionable sources, such as tabloids that feature tales of alien abductions, or personal websites with glaring typos. Sometimes, however, a source’s reliability—or lack of it—is not so obvious.
To evaluate your research sources, you will use critical thinking skills consciously and deliberately. You will consider criteria such as the type of source, its intended purpose and audience, the author’s qualifications, the publication’s reputation, any indications of bias or hidden agendas, how current the source is, and the overall quality of the writing, thinking, and design.
Evaluating Types of Sources
The different types of sources you will consult are written for distinct purposes and with different audiences in mind. This accounts for other differences, such as the following:
How thoroughly the writers cover a given topic
How carefully the writers research and document facts
How editors review the work
What biases or agendas affect the content.
A journal article written for an academic audience for the purpose of expanding scholarship in a given field will take an approach quite different from a magazine feature written to inform a general audience. Textbooks, hard news articles, and websites approach a subject from different angles as well. To some extent, the type of source provides clues about its overall depth and reliability. Table 7.5: Source Rankings ranks different source types.
Table 7.5 Source Rankings
|These sources provide the most in-depth information. They are researched and written by subject matter experts and are carefully reviewed.||
|These sources are often useful. However, they do not cover subjects in as much depth as high-quality sources, and they are not always rigorously researched and reviewed. Some, such as popular magazine articles or company brochures, may be written to market a product or a cause. **Use these sources with caution.**||
|These sources are often written primarily to attract a large readership or present the author’s opinions and are not subject to careful review. **Avoid using these sources!**||
Free online encyclopedias and wikis may seem like a great source of information. They usually appear among the first few results of a web search. They cover thousands of topics, and many articles use an informal, straightforward writing style. Unfortunately, these sites have no control system for researching, writing, and reviewing articles. Instead, they rely on a community of users to police themselves. At best, these sites can be a starting point for finding other, more trustworthy sources. Never use them as final sources.
Evaluating Credibility and Reputability
Even when you are using a type of source that is generally reliable, you will still need to evaluate the author’s credibility and the publication itself on an individual basis. To examine the author’s credibility—that is, how much you can believe of what the author has to say—examine his or her credentials. What career experience or academic study shows that the author has the expertise to write about this topic?
Keep in mind that expertise in one field is no guarantee of expertise in another, unrelated area. For instance, an author may have an advanced degree in physiology, but this credential is not a valid qualification for writing about psychology. Check credentials carefully.
Just as important as the author’s credibility is the publication’s overall reputability. Reputability refers to a source’s standing and reputation as a respectable, reliable source of information. An established and well-known newspaper, such as the Globe and Mail or the New York Times, is more reputable than a college newspaper put out by comparatively inexperienced students. A website that is maintained by a well-known, respected organization and is regularly updated is more reputable than one created by an unknown author or group.
If you are using articles from scholarly journals, you can check databases that keep count of how many times each article has been cited in other articles. This can give you a rough indication of the article’s quality or, at the very least, of its influence and reputation among other scholars.
Checking for Biases and Hidden Agendas
Whenever you consult a source, always think carefully about the author’s purpose in presenting the information. Few sources present facts completely objectively. In some cases, the source’s content and tone are significantly influenced by biases or hidden agendas.
Bias refers to favouritism or prejudice toward a particular person or group. For instance, an author may be biased against a certain political party and present information in a way that subtly—or not so subtly—makes that organization look bad. Bias can lead an author to present facts selectively, edit quotations to misrepresent someone’s words, and distort information.
Hidden agendas are goals that are not immediately obvious but influence how an author presents the facts. For instance, an article about the role of beef in a healthy diet would be questionable if it were written by a representative of the beef industry—or by the president of an animal rights organization. In both cases, the author would likely have a hidden agenda.
As Jorge conducted his research, he read several research studies in which scientists found significant benefits to following a low-carbohydrate diet. He also noticed that many studies were sponsored by a foundation associated with the author of a popular series of low-carbohydrate diet books. Jorge read these studies with a critical eye, knowing that a hidden agenda might be shaping the researchers’ conclusions.
Using Current Sources
Be sure to seek out sources that are current, or up to date. Depending on the topic, sources may become outdated relatively soon after publication, or they may remain useful for years. For instance, online social networking sites have evolved rapidly over the past few years. An article published in 2002 about this topic will not provide current information. On the other hand, a research paper on elementary education practices might refer to studies published decades ago by influential child psychologists.
When using websites for research, check to see when the site was last updated. Many sites publish this information on the homepage, and some, such as news sites, are updated daily or weekly. Many nonfunctioning links are a sign that a website is not regularly updated. Do not be afraid to ask your instructor for suggestions if you find that many of your most relevant sources are not especially reliable—or that the most reliable sources are not relevant.
Evaluating Overall Quality by Asking Questions
When you evaluate a source, you will consider the criteria previously discussed as well as your overall impressions of its quality. Read carefully, and notice how well the author presents and supports his or her statements. Stay actively engaged—do not simply accept an author’s words as truth. Ask questions to determine each source’s value. Checklist 7.1 lists 10 questions you should ask yourself as a critical reader.
Checklist 7.1 Source Evaluation
- Is the type of source appropriate for my purpose? Is it a high-quality source or one that needs to be looked at more critically?
- Can I establish that the author is credible and the publication is reputable?
- Does the author support ideas with specific facts and details that are carefully documented? Is the source of the author’s information clear? (When you use secondary sources, look for sources that are not too removed from primary research.)
- Does the source include any factual errors or instances of faulty logic?
- Does the author leave out any information that I would expect to see in a discussion of this topic?
- Do the author’s conclusions logically follow from the evidence that is presented? Can I see how the author got from one point to another?
- Is the writing clear and organized, and is it free from errors, clichés, and empty buzzwords? Is the tone objective, balanced, and reasonable? (Be on the lookout for extreme, emotionally charged language.)
- Are there any obvious biases or agendas? Based on what I know about the author, are there likely to be any hidden agendas?
- Are graphics informative, useful, and easy to understand? Are websites organized, easy to navigate, and free of clutter like flashing ads and unnecessary sound effects?
- Is the source contradicted by information found in other sources? (If so, it is possible that your sources are presenting similar information but taking different perspectives, which requires you to think carefully about which sources you find more convincing and why. Be suspicious, however, of any source that presents facts that you cannot confirm elsewhere.)
Writing at Work
The critical thinking skills you use to evaluate research sources as a student are equally valuable when you conduct research on the job. If you follow certain periodicals or websites, you have probably identified publications that consistently provide reliable information. Reading blogs and online discussion groups is a great way to identify new trends and hot topics in a particular field, but these sources should not be used for substantial research.
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.5
Use a search engine to conduct a web search on your topic. Refer to the tips provided earlier to help you streamline your search. Evaluate your search results critically based on the criteria you have learned. Identify and bookmark one or more websites that are reliable, reputable, and likely to be useful in your research.
Managing Source Information
As you determine which sources you will rely on most, it is important to establish a system for keeping track of your sources and taking notes. There are several ways to go about it, and no one system is necessarily superior. What matters is that you keep materials in order; record bibliographical information you will need later; and take detailed, organized notes.
Bibliographic information is all the referencing information you need from all sources you consider using for your paper—think of this as your working references page. Any time you look at a source, you should make note of all the referencing information—you may later decide to change direction in your paper or simply choose not to use that source as you develop your paper, but if you do decide to use that source, you will have all the details you need when compiling your references page.
Note: Following the APA format, you need to submit a references page or reference list; you do not submit a bibliography because your references should only include the sources to which you directly referred or cited within your paper, not everything you looked at but did not use.
Keeping Track of Your Sources
Think ahead to a moment a few weeks from now when you will have written your final research paper and are almost ready to submit it for a grade. There is just one task left: writing your list of sources.
As you begin typing your list, you realize you need to include the publication information for a book you cited frequently. Unfortunately, you already returned it to the library several days ago. You do not remember the URLs for some of the websites you used or the dates you accessed them—information that also must be included in your reference page. With a sinking feeling, you realize that finding this information and preparing your references will require hours of work.
This stressful scenario can be avoided. Taking time to organize source information now will ensure that you are not scrambling to find it at the last minute. Throughout your research, record bibliographical information for each source as soon as you begin using it. You may use pen-and-paper methods, such as a notebook or note cards, or maintain an electronic list. (If you prefer the latter option, many office software packages include separate programs for recording bibliographic information.)
Table 7.6: Details for Commonly Used Source Types shows the specific details you should record. Use these details to develop a working bibliography—a preliminary list of sources that you will later use to develop the references section of your paper. You may wish to record information using the formatting system of the American Psychological Association (APA), which will save a step later on.
Table 7.6 Details for Commonly Used Source Types
|Source Type||Necessary Information|
|Book||Author(s), title and subtitle, publisher, city of publication, year of publication|
|Essay or article published in a book||Include all the information you would for any other book. Additionally, record the essay’s or article’s title, author(s), the pages on which it appears, and the name of the book’s editor(s).|
|Periodical||Author(s), article title, publication title, date of publication, volume and issue number, and page numbers|
|Online source||Author(s) (if available), article or document title, organization that sponsors the site, database name (if applicable), date of publication, date you accessed the site, and URL|
|Interview||Name of person interviewed, method of communication, date of interview|
Self-practice EXERCISE 7.6
Create a working bibliography using APA format and referring to the JIBC APA Style Guide. You need to include the referencing information for your original source article; you will want to find three or four other sources you could possibly use to support your discussion about your primary article. Continue to add sources to your working bibliography throughout the research process.
To make your working bibliography even more complete, you may wish to record additional details, such as a book’s call number or contact information for a person you interviewed. That way, if you need to locate a source again, you will have all the information you need right at your fingertips. You may also wish to assign each source a code number to use when taking notes (1, 2, 3, or a similar system).
Taking Notes Efficiently
Good researchers stay focused and organized as they gather information from sources. Before you begin taking notes, take a moment to step back and think about your goal as a researcher—to find information that will help you answer your research question. When you write your paper, you will present your conclusions about the topic supported by research. That goal will determine what information you record and how you organize it.
Writers sometimes get caught up in taking extensive notes, so much so that they lose sight of how their notes relate to the questions and ideas they started out with. Remember that you do not need to write down every detail from your reading. Focus on finding and recording details that will help you answer your research questions. The following strategies will help you take notes efficiently.
Use Headings to Organize Ideas
Whether you use old-fashioned index cards or organize your notes using word processing software, record just one major point from each source at a time, and use a heading to summarize the information covered. Keep all your notes in one file, digital or otherwise. Doing so will help you identify connections between different pieces of information. It will also help you make connections between your notes and the research questions and subtopics you identified earlier.
Know When to Summarize, Paraphrase, or Directly Quote a Source
Your notes will fall under three categories: summary notes, paraphrased information, and direct quotations from your sources. Effective researchers make choices about which is most appropriate for their purpose.
Summary notes sum up the main ideas in a source in a few sentences or a short paragraph. A summary is considerably shorter than the original text and captures only the major ideas. Use summary notes when you do not need to record specific details, but you intend to refer to broad concepts the author discusses.
Paraphrased information restates a fact or idea from a source using your own words and sentence structure.
Direct quotations use the exact wording used by the original source and enclose the quoted material in quotation marks. It is a good strategy to copy direct quotations when an author expresses an idea in an especially lively or memorable way. However, do not rely exclusively on direct quotations in your note taking.
Most of your notes should be paraphrased from the original source. Paraphrasing as you take notes is usually a better strategy than copying direct quotations because it forces you to think through the information in your source and understand it well enough to restate it. In short, it helps you stay engaged with the material instead of simply copying and pasting. Synthesizing will help you later when you begin planning and drafting your paper.
Maintain Complete, Accurate Notes
Regardless of the format used, any notes you take should include enough information to help you organize ideas and locate them instantly in the original text if you need to review them. Make sure your notes include the following elements:
Heading summing up the main topic covered
Author’s name, a source code, or an abbreviated source title
Full URL of any pages buried deep in a website
Throughout the process of taking notes, be scrupulous about correctly attributing each idea to its source. Always include source information so you know exactly which ideas came from which sources. Use quotation marks to set off any words for phrases taken directly from the original text. If you add your own responses and ideas, make sure they are distinct from ideas you quoted or paraphrased.
Finally, make sure your notes accurately reflect the content of the original text. Make sure quoted material is copied verbatim. If you omit words from a quotation, use ellipses to show the omission and make sure the omission does not change the author’s meaning. Paraphrase ideas carefully, and check your paraphrased notes against the original text to make sure that you have restated the author’s ideas accurately in your own words.
Use a System That Works for You
There are several formats you can use to take notes. No one technique is necessarily better than another; it is more important to choose a format you are comfortable using. Choosing the format that works best for you will ensure your notes are organized, complete, and accurate. Consider implementing one of these formats when you begin taking notes:
Use index cards. This traditional format involves writing each note on a separate index card. It takes more time than copying and pasting into an electronic document, which encourages you to be selective in choosing which ideas to record. Recording notes on separate cards makes it easy to later organize your notes according to major topics. Some writers colour code their cards to make them still more organized.
Use note-taking software. Word processing and office software packages often include different types of note-taking software. Although you may need to set aside some time to learn the software, this method combines the speed of typing with the same degree of organization associated with handwritten note cards.
Maintain a research notebook. Instead of using index cards or electronic note cards, you may wish to keep a notebook or electronic folder, allotting a few pages (or one file) for each of your sources. This method makes it easy to create a separate column or section of the document where you add your responses to the information you encounter in your research.
Annotate your sources. This method involves making handwritten notes in the margins of sources that you have printed or photocopied. If using electronic sources, you can make comments within the source document. For example, you might add comment boxes to a PDF version of an article. This method works best for experienced researchers who have already thought a great deal about the topic because it can be difficult to organize your notes later when starting your draft.
Choose one of the methods from the list to use for taking notes. Continue gathering sources and taking notes.
- A writer’s use of primary and secondary sources is determined by the topic and purpose of the research. Sources used may include print sources, such as books and journals; electronic sources, such as websites and articles retrieved from databases; and human sources of information, such as interviews.
- Strategies that help writers locate sources efficiently include conducting effective keyword searches, understanding how to use online catalogues and databases, using strategies to narrow web search results, and consulting reference librarians.
- Writers evaluate sources based on how relevant they are to the research question and how reliable their content is.
- Skimming sources can help writers determine their relevance efficiently.
- Writers evaluate a source’s reliability by asking questions about the type of source (including its audience and purpose); the author’s credibility, the publication’s reputability, the source’s currency, and the overall quality of the writing, research, logic, and design in the source.
- In their notes, effective writers record organized, complete, accurate information. This includes bibliographic information about each source as well as summarized, paraphrased, or quoted information from the source.
Journal entry #7
Write a paragraph or two responding to the following.
How difficult was it for you to identify then apply keywords when searching for a source? Why?
How easy or difficult was it for you to find an academic article for your critique? Why?
How do you feel after having completed your first essay for this course?
Make some general points of how your writing has progressed.
Remember as mentioned in the Assessment Descriptions in your syllabus:
You will be expected to respond to the questions by reflecting on and discussing your experiences with the week’s material.
When writing your journals, you should focus on freewriting—writing without (overly) considering formal writing structures—but you want to remember that it will be read by the instructor, who needs to be able to understand your ideas.
Your instructor will be able to see if you have completed this entry by the end of the week but not read all of the journals until week 11.