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How to Research

Just getting started on a research paper or project? Don't know where to start? This is the guide for you!

Introduction

Evaluate

Evaluate the information you've found to select what you will use for your research assignment

Video Tutorials by UAlberta:

Apply the CRAPP Test

Once you find information, you need to do some critical thinking to decide what to use for your research.

A good place to start is to see if it passes the CRAAP test.

The CRAAP Test is a series of questions to ask about any source of information.  The questions will help you decide whether your source is credible and appropriate for use in your research.

C

Currency: The timeliness of the information

  • Do you know when the information was published, posted, or last updated?
  • Is the information current for your topic and field of study?

R

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

  • Is the information appropriate for a college-level course?
  • Is this an adequately in-depth discussion of the topic?
  • Has Canadian perspective or content been provided?

A

Authority: The source of the information

  • Have the author's credentials or organizational affiliations been identified?
  • Is the author (or authors) qualified to write on the topic?
  • Has the piece been published by a well-known and respected publisher or organization?

A

Accuracy: The reliability and correctness of the informational content

  • Have the author's sources been clearly cited so that you can easily find (and verify) them?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

P

Purpose: The reason the information exists

  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Does the point of view appear objective, unbiased and impartial?
  • Does the author acknowledge alternative versions of the issues or facts?

 

Adapted from: The University of the Fraser Valley (2009). Evaluating information: The CRAAP test. Retrieved from http://www.ufv.ca/library/tutorials/craaptest.htm

Look at each of the sites below.

  1. Evaluate each and see if it passes the CRAAP test. 
  2. Click on Explanation to find out how we evaluated each site.

(Note: Each site will open in a new page)

A. Martin Luther King, Jr.

+ Explanation

 

B. Hospitals

+ Explanation
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Identify Scholarly Sources

If you are able to recognize the differences between a popular and scholarly source, you can focus your research to retrieve only the type of information you need.

Periodical Comparison Chart

Scholarly vs. Popular

When conducting research it is important to distinguish between journal articles and magazine articles. Journal articles are typically referred to as "scholarly," while magazine articles are usually considered "popular". A third category, "trade" magazines or journals, are written for professionals in a particular field but are not strictly research related. Below are additional criteria to consider when differentiating between journals and magazines.

Criteria Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine Newsletter / Trade Journal
Example Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Time Advertising Age

Content

(accuracy)

In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s); very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication. Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opinion; general information, purpose is to entertain or inform Current news, trends and products in a specific industry; practical information for professionals working in the field or industry.

Author

(authority)

Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise. Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise. Author is usually a professional in the field, sometimes a journalist with subject expertise.

Audience

(coverage)

Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist. Professionals in the field; the interested non-specialist.

Language

(coverage)

Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area. Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers. Specialized terminology or jargon of the field, but not as technical as a scholarly journal.

Graphics

(coverage)

Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs. Photographs; some graphics and charts; advertisements targeted to professionals in the field.

Layout & Organization

(currency)

Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion. Informal; articles organized like a journal or a newsletter. Evidence drawn frompersonal experience or common knowledge.

Accountability

(objectivity)

Articles are evaluated by peer-reviewers or referees who are experts in the field; edited for content, format, and style. While the peer-review process is far from perfect, it often is an indicator at least some measure of objectivity. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff who may be experts in the field, not peer-reviewed; edited for format and style.

References

(objectivity)

Required. Quotes and facts are verifiable. Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given Occasional brief bibliographies, but not required.
Paging Page numbers are consecutive throughout the volume. Each issue begins with page 1. Each issue begins with page 1.
Other titles Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, almost anything with Journal in the title. Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, This Old House, Cooking Light, Discover Architectural Record, PC World, Restaurant Business, American Libraries, Psychology Today, School Band and Orchestra

Acknowledgement: This is adapted from one created by North Carolina State University Libraries. They, in turn, modified a document originally created by librarians at the University of Michigan Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

Distinguishing Scholarly and Popular Articles https://www.library.unlv.edu/inst/docs/distinguishing.pdf

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Understand Peer Reviewed

Peer review is a process in which an article is screened and evaluated by a panel of experts before it is published. Reviewers will evaluate the article for quality, credibility, and accuracy. 

If you need to find peer-reviewed articles, use the search options/limiters available in the database.

Peer-reviewed journals may contain information that is not peer-reviewed, such as editorials, opinions, or letters. Remember to evaluate specific articles. Check with your instructor to make sure you have the appropriate sources required for your assignment.

Usually a journal is peer-reviewed when:

  • It is published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society or association.
  • It has a list of reviewers or an editorial board of experts listed inside the front cover, back cover, or on the first few pages. This list can also usually be found somewhere on the journal's webpage.

If you have found your article online in an article database, you can check to see if the database has information about the journal to determine if it is peer-reviewed.

Alternatively, you can do an Internet search for your journal's name to see if the publisher's site has any useful information.

When in doubt, ask us at the library!

The peer review process can follow several different methods:

  • Blind/Double-Blind: neither author nor reviewer know each other
  • Open: both author and reviewer know each other
  • Anonymous: reviewer knows author, author does not know reviewer
  • Signed: author knows reviewer; reviewer does not know author

You can usually find out what kind of peer review is used by checking the journal's website.

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Read & Critique Scholarly Articles

Reading and critiquing scholarly research articles is a skill developed with time and practice.

As you read more within your discipline you'll likely discover patterns in the structure of the journal articles.  You'll also get more experienced at differentiating between good and bad articles.

Journal articles, particularly research articles in the sciences and social sciences, tend to follow a very similar structure.  You may see some or all of the following headings:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction or Background
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Don't feel that you have to read research articles from beginning to end. The best strategy may be to read the abstract and then skip to the conclusions section, in order to get a feel for the main points of the article.

While journal articles in the humanities don't usually follow the structure noted above, you will at a minimum still see an Introduction and a References or Works Cited list.

The following questions may be helpful in determining whether you are reading a good scholarly article:

  • Is the research question clearly stated (in a humanities paper, this will be the thesis statement)? Does it seem significant?
  • Has the new research been framed well within the existing research? In other words, is there evidence of a literature review and does it seem complete?
  • Is the researcher's methodology clearly laid out? Does it seem appropriate for the research problem?
  • Do the researcher's conclusions make sense, given the results reported or the evidence presented? Are there any inconsistencies? Any apparent biases in the data or evidence?
  • Have limitations to the research or argument been identified?
  • Does the References list appear accurate and complete?
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